A Story worth telling
Stories have a way of transporting us to new places. A good story will often give you glimpses into the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist in such a way that you cannot help but think and feel the same way. Growing up some of my favorite books to read were the Chronicles of Narnia. How strange it was to meet a fawn, and to have him look upon the daughter of eve as if she were the oddity in that scenario. Such a wonderful and fantastic world in which any good thing seemed possible. This world in which some animals could talk and all good creatures served Aslan, the Son of the Emperor over the sea. Yes these books can take a person momentarily out of the chaotic mess that we call life and turn us to a world that seems somewhat simpler and yet somehow profoundly more true than our own world. And it is in one of these books that a great story is referenced, that is the story of the cup, the sword, the tree and the hill. It is this story that I will invite you to ponder today.
But before I get into that story, I want to also note another way that stories influence each of our lives. This story is unavoidable, and plays a greater role in your life than any other story can. I am of course referring to the story of who you are. Every morning you wake up, and without you even realizing it, you have informed yourself who you are, how you think, how you will react in various situations, and how you will start your day. This story is comprised of your various memories and key influences. This story in many ways dictates the very direction your life will go on any given day. For many people in our broken and sinful world, the stories they tell themselves only further compound their brokenness in their lives.
Take for example Ashley, a 34 year old, self-made woman who started in at her business at 18, and after 16 long years has worked all the way to the top. Her alarm goes off at 5am every morning and by 5:05 she is in the shower, by 5:20 she has dried off and gets dressed, by 5:45 her hair and makeup are done flawlessly, by 6:30 she is out the door having had her usual breakfast of a high fiber caffeinated fruit smoothie while looking at the latest news reports online. She gets to her office by 7 and is immediately briefed by her secretary about the appointments for that day. The day has its usual happenings of meetings, progress reports, taking potential clients out to lunch, more meetings, taking other potential clients out for happy hour, going to the gym to keep herself at peak performance, then going home to catch the nightly news and off to bed by 9pm. The story she tells herself every morning is that she has worked hard to get where she is, and if she doesn’t continue to work hard everything will be lost.
Then there is Jimmy, age 13. He wakes up at 6:30 every day so he has plenty of time for his morning routine. He has known for about a year now that the ladies think he is cute, and so he has been buying fashion magazines, getting the latest haircuts, making certain that he has 3 different hair gels, each with a different firmness to get those locks just right. His morning routine even includes putting on a light touch of make-up, not enough to really be noticed unless really up close, but just enough to make his face pop in just the right way. He goes to school and loves the stares that he gets, even from the 8th grade girls. Then there is the giggles that he hears as he walks by, knowing that it is because of him. He doesn’t pay attention much in classes, but that is alright, He knows that he is going to be a model as soon as his mom has the time to take him to auditions. When he gets home he looks over the magazines and practices his poses in the mirror. The story he tells himself every morning is that his looks are everything, and if he doesn’t stay ahead of the curve in fashion everything will be lost.
Anna is 11 years old and she already knows that she is going to Harvard for a law degree. Her alarm goes off and she presses play on her audio book version of The Tools of Argument so she can pick up tips while getting ready for school. She keeps her earbuds in while eating the toast her mom made her and keeps them in while she gets on the bus. She works hard to pay perfect attention to every word her teachers say because she knows that if she wants to get into Harvard some day her grades must be perfect. She gets home and immediately starts to work on the homework that is due for tomorrow, followed by working a little bit more on her English paper that is due in a month. She ends her day reading a philosophy of law book before going to bed by 11pm. The story she tells herself is of her future, a future that seems so fragile to her. One A- or one missed opportunity to read and everything will be lost.
And there is Bill. He retired two years ago from a job that he worked his entire life. He used to be the guy who woke up at 6am everyday. He was the guy who had a set schedule, who had a plan and a purpose to each day. But now what he is left with is sadness and confusion. Except for when he visits family or they visit him, he will generally putz around the house after waking up at 8:30am. Sure he will eat breakfast and lunch and dinner that his wife makes, adding a few highlights to each day, but most days he is just filling the time. The first year of retirement wasn’t all that bad, he had a huge list that he and his wife put together of projects to do around the house, but he got through the first list in the first 6 months, and then got through the second list the following 3 months, and the last 3 months of that first year is when everything seemed to slow to a crawl. Bill wakes up every morning to a story about the past. He once had a purpose, he once was someone to a lot of people, but now, all he feels is lost.
Maybe one of those stories sounds a bit like yours, but even if none of them do, I am certain that you wake up in the morning with a story. A story that drives what is important to you, that tells you who you love and who you can’t stand, a story that informs your goals as well as how you will respond if you are successful or if you fail. This story shapes your everything and is the greatest influencer you will come into contact with. But what happens when this story isn’t enough? What happens when you feel yourself worn down by your own narrative?
Earlier I mentioned the fictional works the Chronicles of Narnia. They were written by the Christian author C.S. Lewis, who used these fictional stories as means of telling God’s story, which is most clearly found in the bible.
In one of the books of the Chronicles, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy is reading out of the magician’s spell book. She had just read a spell that allowed her to hear what her friends really thought about her. That left her quite dismayed. Then she saw a spell that is for the refreshment of the spirit. It was not so much a standard spell, but a story. As she read the story, she found her frustrations and disappointments melt and by the time she was done all she felt was a lovely sense of peace. She liked the story so much she desired to go back and read it again, but she found that the spell book could only go forward, not back. She struggled to try to remember as much of the story that she could, but all she could remember was something about a cup, and a sword, and a tree, and a hill. When she next sees Aslan, the Christ figure in the Chronicles, she asks him about the story and if He would tell it to her again. He responds that he will tell it to her for years and years.
While Lewis in his work doesn’t explicitly tell us that story, I think this story, a story that has the power to refresh the spirit, is a story that you have heard before. For our Lord Jesus Christ before he was betrayed prayed to His Father “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” This cup was the cup of wrath that all of humanity deserved on account of failing to follow the commands of the one who created and ordered all things. This divine wrath was greater than what anyone else in all of creation had faced, or has ever faced since, and Jesus submitted to the Father’s will and bore that cup for us. Then some people came to arrest Jesus in the garden, and one of the disciples pulled out a sword and struck one of the captors. The disciple attempted to stop Jesus from enduring the cup, but again Jesus submitted to the will of God and allowed himself to be taken captive after healing the one who was struck. Then Jesus carried the tree, the cross, to the hill upon which he would die the atoning sacrifice. On that tree He took upon himself the wrath that you deserved.
What does this story, the true account of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us as scripture tells us mean for us today? The words of St. Paul that we heard read earlier might help with that question.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
So this story changes everything. You no longer need to live for yourself, scrambling to make certain that everything is perfect. You don’t have to work so hard with the belief that if you stop everything is lost. You don’t have to believe that your looks are all that you have. You don’t have to be so stressed about your future that you miss what God is doing in the present. Your identity is more than just the memories of your past, which can leave you feeling a painful weight. You instead are a new creation, freed up to be an ambassador for Christ, free in the knowledge that you have been reconciled to God. You have been invited to hear God’s story and see for yourself the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. You are invited to have your story be understood in light of God’s story. Now that is a story worth telling, can you picture it.
Imagine waking up and the first thought that you have is “this is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Imagine waking up and neither feeling stressed by the need to prove yourself to others nor feeling as though there is nothing of significance for you to do. As a part of God’s story you play a part in how God blesses His creation. Imagine being cut off while driving and rather than getting mad at the terrible driver, you instead ask that God would help that person to make better choices. Imagine failing someone in a profound way, but you apologize to that person rather than being filled with pride and the relationship is further mended rather than further broken. Imagine feeling the peace that surpasses all understanding which comes from knowing that because of the story that Jesus died on your behalf, you have been reconciled to God and now serve as a part of His kingdom. That is a story that God will tell you again and again for the refreshment of your spirit.