... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

PENTECOST Message July 24th, 2011

Key for the Future: Remembering our Real History

Text: Romans 8:26-39

In the movie, “Lord of the Rings” the opening scene in Part 1, “The Fellowship of the Ring” begins with a summary of the first war between the peoples of Middle Earth and the Evil Sauron. In this battle Sauron is defeated by Isildur who cuts the one ring off Sauron and claims it for himself. Instead of destroying the ring he keeps it. Then one day he is ambushed and as he attempts to escape, he puts the ring on his finger, becomes invisible and dives into the water. But the ring betrays him as it enlarges and falls off Isildur’s finger rendering him visible where upon he is killed. The narrator comments as we see the ring slip from Isildur, “And some things that should never be forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth...” While this Tolkien story is a great work of fiction it does contain many truths about humanity and human behaviour. And one of those truths is that we tend to forget the past and alter the history to suit our own purposes. Indeed some wonderful sayings abound about our proclivity to such behaviour, e.g. those who forget the past are destined to relive it; or History has always been written by the victors. Such is our tendency to go along our merry ways oblivious to the signs of the real truth.

If anything the readings for today try to oppose this human tendency by forcing us to remember the works of God in the past and see the reality of God in the present. And here the Tolkien warning is all too ominous for we are living in that time frame that has seen history become legend and now legend becoming myth. Some 50 years ago there were essays books and articles coming out declaring the myth of Christianity and more and more people have come to accept Christianity as nothing more than myth. In so doing we change history and we relegate God’s actions into a kind of folklore or fiction which, apart from some moral and ethical illustrations, society would have us believe has no bearing on human self-determination.

Of the four readings this is most evident in the psalm. Psalm 105 addresses a forgetful community which has lost touch with God, and which has forgotten its roots. The psalmist is here shaking a sleeping Israel to awaken and see God in the present by recounting the marvellous works God had accomplished in the past and re-defining its contemporary story of itself as an enslaved people.

One of the many psychological therapies used by psychologists and counsellors is called Narrative therapy in which the person being counselled is encouraged to re-define his or her life story of self. Quite often this involves the whole family as each member tells his or her own interpretation of the past, the family relations and dynamics and in so doings help the one being counselled to re-envision the past, to make sense of the present and give direction for the future. One case I recall was that of a young man in his mid thirties – depressed and seeing himself as a failure and the black sheep of the family. It turned out that being the eldest in a somewhat dysfunctional family, he took the brunt of the father’s anger. Over the years the young man came to see himself as a failure, never able to do anything right. In the course of counselling, the sisters told the story of a brave brother who enabled them to be able to cope with the family life and to go on to become successful themselves. As their brother listened to the perceptions from his siblings’ point of view he slowly came to see that he had not been the failure that he had labelled himself but actually the hero, supporter and yes the scape-goat but which allowed the sisters and brother to survive. As the past was recalled, remembered, and re-defined in a global understanding, the young man became aware of the greater picture and was able to re-define who he was and in fact his relationship to and with his sisters and brothers became closer, more meaningful and richly blessed.

The psalmist was showing Israel a new narrative of itself as a chosen children in a deep relationship with God – a relationship which Israel had forgotten, but which God still was nurturing. Israel had but to awaken and see it. So too was the story of Jacob’s 14 years working for his Uncle Laban to get the girl of his dreams a re-defining narrative. In this story of the trickster being tricked, Laban dupes Jacob; first with 7 years of servitude for a wife, then substituting Leah for Rachel and finally another 7 years in order for Jacob to wed Rachel. Yet behind the story we see the real story of God preparing Jacob to become the worthwhile Patriarch of the chosen people Israel.

Romans 8, Paul’s great treatise on faith and salvation is an encouragement to the early Christians in Rome to remember what God had accomplished in Christ Jesus and so to re-define their lives. To a people persecuted for their Christian beliefs preyed upon by Rome on the one hand as a band of upstarts, threatening the Roman way of peace and by the Jews on the other as blasphemous heretics threatening traditional Jewish life, Paul’s letter was a call to re-define who they really were according to God’s perspective. History as both the Roman Empire and Jewish authorities had declared was not the true history. The story of God’s actions in Jesus, even by this early date had gone from history to legend and Paul was stating that this was the incorrect path, that the human leaders of the day had it all wrong and that the faithful community had to recall God’s works in Jesus, return the legend back into history and then live in the present according to a newly re-defined narrative.

The true Christian according to Paul is the one who sees God’s handiwork in the present, has no fear of the evil which abounds and is secure in the relationship Christ had procured. True the persecutions of the day seemed to tell a different story – a story of weakness, a story of isolation and betrayal and a story of failure. But Paul cautions that this is not the real or true picture. The true picture shows God fighting a larger battle of good against evil – a battle in which he have his Son Jesus to death in order to bring the covenantal relationship back to humanity. Hence Paul asks the four rhetorical questions, “who is against us?”; “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?”; “Who is to condemn?” and “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” to begin to re-define the life narrative of this early Christian community. The final act of re-defining this community is to show them that God has been with them and will continue to be with them in and through Christ Jesus despite all that seemed to the contrary including angels rulers powers or anything else in all of Creation.

Even the parables of the Kingdom of Heaven are meant to call us to re-define our life story as a community. Our purpose is to pursue the goals of the Kingdom not of the earth. The key for our future lies in remembering our real history and preventing that history from being turned into legend and from legend into myth. We must see ourselves as a people of God focused in God’s will and to awaken the sleepy Christians to see God here and now.