A Sermon Preached On
The Second Sunday Before Advent
Sunday, November 17, 2019, 11:00 am
also being The Third Sunday in a Season of Visioning
at the Anglican Church of St Thomas, Kefalas, Crete, Greece.
Somewhat expanded and changed since it was preached.
This is the Third Sunday in our Season of Visioning. It is a season in which we pray and reflect, and open ourselves to the Holy Spirit. Last week I introduced this Venn diagram:
I suggest to you that it is a way of approaching what our vision might be at the Anglican Church of St Thomas, Kefalas. We each have our own story. The church, whether as a world-wide institution or this congregation, also has a story. Then there is God’s story, which is what we will focus on today. These stories intersect, and I believe that we will find God’s vision for us in the centre of this diagram, where the three stories overlap and intersect.
The Big Story
The story of God is to be found preeminently in the Bible (although we must always remember that God cannot be contained by mere words). Although it is really a collection of books, it has developed a narrative structure. This was pointed out by the Canadian literary critic Northrup Frye in his book, The Great Code, and it has been read primarily as a story with a narrative structure. Although it has many authors and many types of literature – stories, genealologies, laws, prophecy, poetry, chronicle, blessings and curses, letters, and so on – it all hangs off of a narrative thread telling one long story.
It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning is the creation of the world in Genesis, and the revelation of God to Abraham, and the promises made to his descendants, the people of Israel. The middle is the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, the Word made flesh, the unexpected Messiah who was put to death and rose again. The end is the foretelling of his coming in glory, the destruction of all that is evil and is not of God, and the recreation of the world.
In Western society we are so used to this that it comes as a surprise when we discover that other faiths and religions do not have sacred scriptures like this. For example:
- Judaism has the Tanach, the Hebrew scriptures what we now read as the Old Testament, but the reality is that for Jews this is read through the lens of Torah, God’s instruction or law, as discussed by the sages in the Talmud. There is a narrative, but it is overshadowed by the rabbis’ discussions of how to apply the Torah to everyday life.
- The Qu’ran of Islam is a series of revelations from God to Muhammed, and it is organized according to length, from longest to shortest, not according to when they were disclosed. As a result, it does not ell a story, and the revelations themselves can be quite opaque.
- The Analects of Confucius are a series of sayings by Master Kung, and do not tell a story but emphasise certain values and precepts.
- The Pali canon, used by Theravedan Buddhists, consists of sermons, rules for Buddhist monastic communities, and Buddhist philosophy. It is all in aid of the central Buddhist practice of meditation.
- The stories told by the Kwak’wala speaking peoples (who have lived from time immemorial in what we now call British Columbia) were usually about times in the distant past, and were descriptions of how human beings related to the land and the living things in it. These were transmitted orally until the turn of the 20th century.
Of course, the Big Story we find in the Bible is always complicated because it is actually a collection of stories and texts written over a 1300 year period, and which has been subject to various types of interpretation. Part of the joy I have is delving into the intricacies of the Bible, and figuring out how its story relates to me and the world.
The Big Idea
Ian Dingwall, who was an archdeacon in the Diocese of Niagara and who died a few years ago, used to tell this story:
When I was a young priest in Vancouver there was a Sunday School teacher in my parish who was talking to a group of pre-adolescents. She was saying, “Well, boys and girls, I was in Stanley Park the other day, and as I was walking though the forest and the giant redwoods and Douglas firs, I saw a rustling among the bushes. I walked over to it, and as I got closer I saw what it was. Do you know what I saw, boys and girls?” I think she was talking about a rabbit, but before anybody could say anything one child said, “It was Jesus. Its always Jesus!”
It’s always Jesus! Ultimately we as Christians always centre our stories and our lives on Jesus. We have two Testaments, the Old and the New, which both testify to Jesus. The Jews read the Hebrew Scriptures as their Tanach – Torah, Prophets, and Writings – but we read it as a prophecy about Jesus, his teachings, and his death for us and his resurrection. We read the patriarchs and kings as types that prefigure Jesus, so that he is a second Adam, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, a new Moses, a greater king that David or Solomon.
I suppose if we were to sum up the story in one sentence, it is that in Christ Jesus the Creator is recreating the world. What God created in the beginning, and which he saw as being very good, is not now quite what it was created to be. We humans are fallen, sinful, fragile, and predisposed to do the wrong thing, even when we know what the good is. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Having dug a hole that we cannot get out of, Jesus as the Son of God is sent by the Father so that we might be lifted up and restored, forgiven and empowered by the Holy Spirit. While we are not quite there, we are building Jerusalem here among these dark, satanic mills.
Where is the intersection?
Where do we find that our story intersects with God’s story? How does God’s story relate to the ups and downs of the story of the church, and to the story we tell ourselves about St Thomas’s, Kefalas? This is the work for the next two weeks. May God bless us as we continue to pray and reflect, may God grant us a vision for you, for me, and for us and this congregation.