Tell Me The Old, Old Story

Tell Me the Old, Old Story

Tell me the old, old story, of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love;
Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,
For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled. 

Tell me the old, old story, tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love.

Some stories are really old, and I mean, really, – really old.

This really old story was the story about a liberation of a people uniquely touched by their encounter with a God whom they identified not only as the creator but as a liberator and the giver of a blueprint for a new way of life. The key element in this blueprint was an invitation. God invited a people to take their rightful place as collaborators in the task of caring for the creation and of ensuring that their liberation from slavery became the foundation stone of a new kind of society. Caring for the creation and honoring the experience of liberation from slavery became a password – the Hebrew words Tikkun olam – the repairing of the world or putting the world to rights – in real time.

Some 2000 years ago, this already really old story broke anew into the conscious awareness of a small band of men and women whose experience had become reshaped over a three-year period as followers of a wandering rabbi from Nazareth. Without realizing it, their imaginations had been prepared for a startlingly new twist on the experience of their ancient national story.

This old, old story was given a new and completely unforeseen twist that created a new chapter to the old, old story among the Jewish followers of Jesus – this new chapter of Jesus and God’s love.

In the old, old story, God promised to repair the creation thus bringing about a new heaven and a new earth. In the new twist on the old, old story, the first Christians came to recognize that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God had taken a decisive step in realizing this dream. Raising Jesus to new life revealed in real time a foretaste of the future promise of a new heaven and a new earth.

The followers of Jesus now saw themselves as living between two bookends; between the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of a new heaven and a new earth. Between these bookends they felt called to a new way of living, in a new kind of community, where the goal was now to leave this world in a better state than the one they were born into.

Whenever the word resurrection is mentioned it’s important to clear up a widely held misunderstanding in America today. Resurrection is not a spiritual hope for a future life after death. It’s way more startling than that! As faithful Jews, the first Christians understood resurrection to mean – not spiritual life after physical death – but a new physical life after physical death as part of God’s plan for the remaking of the physical world envisioned for the end of time.

The new twist for the followers of Jesus was that they came to believe that while not under any illusions that the process of tikkun olam had been completed, God had nevertheless through his resurrection of Jesus – as in a return to physical life after physical death,  inaugurated in real time  the ahead-of-time promise of the resurrection of the whole of creation. From henceforth, life is to be lived between the two bookends of the resurrection of Jesus as a foretaste of the eventual resurrection of the world.

Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in–
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin;
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon,
The “early dew” of morning, has passed away at noon.

Tell me the old, old story, tell me the old, old story,
    Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love. 


So, this sermon is a tale of two stories – the original old, old, very old story of the Jews, and the newer twist on this story we call the Christian story – a story which for most of us is also now a pretty old one. The problem with stories is that most of us still cling to unsophisticated notions of true or false.

Stories are all we human beings have to make sense of our experience of the world around us. We can’t understand our experience until we find a way to articulate it. That articulation always involves the construction of a story. Even so-called objective scientific observation of the hard reality that we can see and touch only makes sense within the larger story that is modern science.

Stories are never simply true or false. Instead, we might better ask – is this story effective or not – how complete or incomplete a description of experience is it – is it expansive or restrictive – inclusive or exclusionary; a story of love or a story of fear?

Stories that are more complete, more expansive, more inclusionary are more effective than stories that restrict human experience. Expansive stories give us room to breathe and to grow.

In 2019 we seem to be learning all over again, because what we cannot remember we are only destined to repeat, restrictive stories based on fear and exclusion, on competition – what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is potentially mine tomorrow, imprison us in definitions of identity and worldviews that are too small and cramped to allow us to flourish.

Stories are rooted in culture. The old, old, story of tikkun olan – of making new that which has grown old, and its new twist of resurrection, is our religious story, by which I mean the religious story of Western Culture.

The old, old, story is a story about creation and the values and dreams that creation inspires coming to a final fulfilment in the recreation of a new heaven and a new earth. Within the old, old story is another story of Jesus and his love; a story of the death and resurrection of Jesus through which God has shown us a preview of the end. This preview is important. Just as in a movie to see the preview is not to have seen the whole film but it does change the way one anticipates the ending.

In the meantime, between preview and ending lies life as we know it. Given my premise that all we ever have are stories – then can we not see that the stories we choose or that choose us – if we are not careful – dictate the shape of the lives we live, and the worldviews we hold.

What stories will we choose to actively shape a future better than the present one we are living through?

Given the conflicting worldviews embodied in stories that shape our lives, some of them stories of power and greed; some of competition and exploitation; others of inclusion and exclusion based on skin or genitalia; on what we do with our genitals – and with whom we do it. These are especially pernicious stories, incompatible with human flourishing.

When measured against such stories- perhaps the old, old story is not such a bad one to live by, after all?

Tell me the same old story,
  When you have cause to fear
That this world’s empty glory
  Is costing me too dear;
And when the Lord’s bright glory
  Is dawning on my soul,
Tell me the old, old story:
 “Christ Jesus makes thee whole.

Tell me the old, old story, tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love.

                                     

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