Pastoral Perspectives

Our Stories In God’s Story

I love dramas and musicals, and I love to be part of the cast of such productions. I have taken part in church musicals before. Though I usually do not play the main characters, there are still lines to deliver, songs to sing, emotions to convey. To really play a character’s part well, I must understand how my story fits into the overall story. My performance does not stand alone. I have to interact with other characters. Before I come onto the scene, the story has already begun, and after I leave the scene, the story continues. Mine is a small part but an important part nonetheless. It lends integrity to the whole story and it is only meaningful in the context of the bigger story.

On life’s stage, we too are playing out our part in the drama of life. We may think that we are insignificant people, merely going about our ordinary lives. As people of God who have received His salvation, we view our lives differently. We live inside a big Story, one that started long before our birth and that will go on long after our death: the Story of God as centered in Jesus Christ. Our lives take their fullest shape and deepest meaning when we see our stories as an integral part of His Story. As Eugene Peterson puts it: ‘God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.’

Using the analogy of drama to describe life, this big Story can be divided into different Acts. Act 1 is Creation. In the beginning, the triune God creates the universe out of unwarranted love and sheer delight. He makes human beings in His image so that they can enjoy oneness and intimacy with Him and with one another. Act 2 is the Fall. Foolishly, human beings assert themselves against God’s loving authority with woeful consequences – a cracked oneness both in their relationship with God and with one another, otherness instead of oneness, a distorted image, death! But God in His great mercy enacts His plan to rescue humanity and to right what is wrong. Act 3 is God’s covenant people Israel. God reveals Himself to one nation by which He intends to bless all nations. He commands His people to love Him with their whole beings and to love one another, reintroducing oneness and intimacy, both vertically and horizontally. Israel however fails miserably.

God eventually incarnates Himself in one person by whom He intends to save all people. Act 4 is God’s Son in whom perfect oneness and intimacy is displayed. This Act unfolds the drama of Jesus Christ: the prophecies and His miraculous birth, His mind boggling teachings and mind blowing healings, His unjust sufferings and atoning death, His victorious resurrection and ascent into heaven, after which God sends his very Spirit to indwell Christ’s disciples and empower them to be one in Christ, enabling them to love God with their whole beings and to love one another as themselves, oneness instead of otherness, image restored, life. That brings us to Act 5, the Church, and this Act is ongoing and we are the characters playing out this Act right at this moment. So the Story continues right to our day, and on it will go until the end of time where Christ will return in power to judge the living and the dead. Act 6, the final Act, is Consummation. This long salvation saga will culminate in the creation of a new heaven and earth where oneness and intimacy will be perfected and God’s children will enjoy His presence and share in His glory forever.

This is the Great Story. This is the Gospel. It centers on Jesus Christ but amazingly, we also find ourselves in it. As disciples of Jesus, the shape and purposes of our lives must conform to the shape and purposes of Jesus. We choose to deny ourselves, take on His character, live by His teachings and pursue His mission in the world. If we know the plot of the Story, and we are familiar with the characters that have gone before us, and we know the intentions of the Director who plays the main characters, then how we deliver our lines and live our lives ought to show this understanding. The Director’s Spirit is at hand to help, lead and guide as we live in great hope for the final Act to arrive.

We are nonetheless forgetful people and can be easily distracted. The early Church therefore came up with a church calendar so that year after year as we observe the various seasons of the Christian year, we are drawn back to the bigger Story, and this rhythm can enable us to remember who we are and cause us to anticipate what is to come so that the future lends purpose to the present even as the present gives rise to the future. Again Eugene Peterson says: ‘End time influences present, ordinary time, not by diminishing and denigrating it but by charging it, filling it with purpose and significance. The end time is not a future we wait for but the gift of the fullness of time that we receive in adoration and obedience as it flows into the present.’

That is why in True Way, we faithfully observe the church seasons. Today is the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday marks the start of a new Christian year which has altogether seven seasons – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Ordinary Time. Advent reminds us of the first coming of our Lord Jesus and just as the prophecies concerning His first coming have come to fulfillment, so will the prophecies of His second coming, and we can anticipate, look forward to and put our hope in that event which will also mark the close of HiStory (His Story). Christmas celebrates the arrival of the light of the world and this light continues to shine through us as we fulfill our calling to be salt and light of this world. Epiphany means to ‘show’ or ‘reveal’. Jesus came to reveal God to the world. He said: ‘If you see me, you will see my Father.’ And so throughout the three years of His ministry on earth, He revealed God’s will through His teachings and He revealed God’s glory through the miracles He performed. We in turn have been given the mission to reveal Jesus as the Saviour to all people. While Advent commemorates the coming of Christ and Epiphany the manifestation of Christ, Lent prepares us for the death and resurrection of Christ. The season of Lent is marked by a deepening realism about the cost of discipleship. Christians use this period of time for introspection, self examination, repentance, re-commitment and service. On Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. Christ’s resurrection forms the central event of Christian history.

Without this reversal of the shame of the cross, Christ’s death would have atoned for nothing – we will still remain in our sins. Christ’s resurrection therefore guarantees our own resurrection. Because Christ resurrected from the dead, the bondage of sin and death is overcome. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is now at work in us to raise us up as a new creation, enabling us to overcome sin and death. Pentecost is ! dedicate d to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the believers. The third Person of the Trinity indwells us. He is our Comforter, Counsellor, Advocate, and Helper. The period between Pentecost and the following Advent is known as Ordinary Time. Rather than meaning ‘common’ or ‘mundane’, this term comes from the word ‘ordinal’, which simply means ‘counted time’. We can continuously look out for the acts of our extraordinary God even in the ordinary thoroughfare of our lives.

We will continue to remember these special seasons with readings and colours adorning our communion table, our pulpit, the pastors’ stoles, and even the flowers that are being displayed. Let these visual aids be powerful symbols of remembrance and anticipation even as we continue to live out our stories as disciples of Jesus. Let the Christian story shape everything we do, even how we reckon time. Church time offers us the opportunity to revisit Jesus’ life every year. Living inside church time will form us in the Christian story. It will form me in Jesus’ story.

It has been a long time since I last took part in a musical. In this season of my life, I may not be able to find the time to do so. Yet I am mindful that the Story continues. We are playing out our parts in Act 5 of this Drama, all of us are, and we are looking forward to the final Act, the finale, when the main characters, that of the Father, Son and Spirit, will draw the Story to a climax and bring the curtains down, and the saints across time and space will stand in awe of how HiStory (His Story) will eventually conclude. It is our privilege that we have been given a part to play in this Story which in turn gives meaning and purpose to our lives on earth. Let us therefore live out our part faithfully. To God be the glory!

Rev Lee Kien Seng

November 23, 2014