Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Good Book - God's Unfolding Drama

Imagine for a moment that, in a dream, you are attending a theatre and watching a play. The play is reaching the climax when suddenly an actor is taken ill. The director steps forward and invites not just anyone but you to play the role. What could you do? You would have to improvise in the light of all you knew about the play so far – the plot, the characters and perhaps what you had read in the programme about the end. Today, as we give thanks to God for the scriptures, we are reminded that one way to understand the Bible is that through it, God invites us to play our part in his drama, applying all we know of his plans and words to our own often unexpected situations.

Our Epistle this morning reminds us that Christ has not been properly understood, if we forget his life before birth and his life after the resurrection! The whole creation and the whole development of the universe revolves around Jesus Christ. Nothing falls outside the scope of God’s project. Here we have God’s Mission Statement – you cannot be more comprehensive than this. The whole Bible backs up this view. It’s a play - THE BIBLE – A DRAMA IN FIVE ACTS
1. The Creation – God creates the scene (Genesis 1-2)
2. The Fall – The tragic consequences of human sin distort the world (Genesis 3-11)
3. Israel – God begins the process of redemption (Old Testament)
4. Jesus – God brings redemption to a focus in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus (The Gospels)
5. The time of the Church – God’s redemption is brought to the whole world (Acts – Revelation).
Scene 1 – the birth of the church
Scenes 2 & 3 - Church history so far
Scene 4 – in which we are called to live faithfully and creatively
Scene 5 – Redemption completed.

We are invited to play our part in this developing drama. The our Gospel reading from Matthew reflects the vision of God beginning to wrap the whole play up – it’s part of the final scene.

Looked at in this way, the Bible provides us with a “big story” in which to live out our lives – a dynamic framework which helps us to make sense of the meaning of life, to explore its difficulties and to discover a sense of purpose for our selves.

David Wilkinson a respected astrophysicist and theologian tells us that physicists have calculated that the probability of the universe ever getting started is 1/1x fifty seven zeros – in other words so improbable as to be impossible as a chance event. Scientists also calculate (from observations of the galaxy’s oldest stars) that the universe has been around for 13–14 billion years – in other words, an unimaginably long time. Both of these estimates give us just a glimpse of the scale of the “big story” God is directing and that we have a part in. More than this, it offers us • A new beginning – resources for living and an invitation to friendship with God agreeing to live in this story • It does not impose a fatalistic future – we are invited to make choices, enjoy relationships and contribute to the developments.

So, this grand narrative of God’s eternal purposes has local implications – that too is part of its richness. Christ’s death turns enemies into God’s friends and overcomes all the divisions that people create. It leads to transformed people who then transform the locality in which they live. There are all kinds of hints to this effect in the letter. Old divisions are being overcome – whether they are religious/ethnic ones or social ones. Old attitudes and destructive patterns of behaviour are being transformed so that anger is replaced with compassion, hate with forgiveness, insults with kindness and so forth.  Old-style relations in home and workplace are being replaced with ones that more fully reflect the model of Jesus – loving respect for all. We can see in these how the yeast of the Kingdom is beginning to change the whole loaf!

So, another aspect of the richness is that through Christ God is redeeming his people for holiness. God’s Word has always worked like this. Our context is very different, so completing the drama does not mean copying but being stimulated by this story. We too need to seek “to set ourselves” apart for God and demonstrate how
the message of Jesus transforms communities.

Some of us face the challenge to work out how we can demonstrate God’s kingdom in the workplace or in a difficult family situation. As Christians we need each other to work these things through and to support one another – it is easy to forget we are in God’s play when we are “out there “on our own!

But this richness affects individual people – the details about various believers in chapter 4 remind us of this. Within this list, there are many dramatic personal stories. Fortunately, we know a little about a couple of them. We can tell the stories of Mark – Barnabas’ cousin, who opts out of missionary journeys with Paul and gets barred by Paul on a subsequent journey. But in Colossians 4, Mark is restored as a companion of Paul; he is one of three people who have “been a great help to me”(4.11). Mark goes on to provide us with one of our Gospels. Clearly, he had allowed Christ’s word to live richly in him. Onesimus – a runaway slave, whose master Philemon probably lived in Colossae! Here are individuals profoundly influenced by the richness of Christ’s message, who have become part of its unfolding drama. And there are the others, known to us only by name, but whose own parts in the drama would have been well-known to Paul and the churches in that region. And that’s where we all come in – [refer back to Bishop Tom Wright’s five acts] – we are invited to construct scene 4 in the final act of the Bible’s continuing drama!

“Let this rich message about Christ live in your hearts …”  Now we need to beware! “Live in your hearts”, doesn’t mean keep it hidden, locked away, inside us! It means to take it so much to heart that it reshapes who we are and what we do from the inside out!

The Colossians are encouraged to encounter Christ’s message in many ways and so are we so that we can fully receive it’s message and play our part in God’s continuing drama.

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