Back to the Basics

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This week I’m preaching on the 3rd part of a 4-part story I’m calling “Our Story”.   My hope was that I could give us the general story (the basics) of the Christian faith in 4 sermons.  What was I thinking!?!?   As I attempt to put out the “main” story, I find myself constantly trying to figure out how I can give some “alternatives” to the basic story.   The reason for this is that God has pulled me into this amazing river of hope and love from the stories on the edges of this faith, not the stories from the middle. I’ve never been a “basics” guy.  From the beginning, I have always found the idea of Christianity-- as a “thin line to which we must tuck our tummy in and walk on tippy toes, carefully placing one step in front of the other” -- as a big turn off.  Jesus, for me, is not a laser but a prism…meant to open up the full array of colors into my life and the world!  Jesus is an open door inviting me in, not a gatekeeper trying to keep me out!

But, I must admit that to go back and try to define the basics, has been a helpful exercise for me.  This exercise, however difficult, has helped me clear the “muck” that often clouds up a head full of too many story lines.   Sometimes going back to the basic story helps clarify things, and in so doing I find just where I am in this amazing story.  

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A part of this exercise has been reading an old classic on the Christian faith called “Mere Christianity” by CS Lewis.  Lewis wrote this book as a series of speeches in the heart of WW II!   In these broadcasts, Lewis is trying to put forth an understanding of the Christian faith that could muster up enough strength to get England through the war and help our broken world start all over. He was speaking to an England that had, for the most part, given up on Christianity, and he was trying to put forth an understanding of the Christian faith that could throw a punch.

What a fascinating read!   Lewis is a master in linear argument.  His personal examples are brilliant.  But, there are things about it that I struggle with.   First, while it is understandable that he puts the Christian faith in terms of a battle, I struggle with the imagery today.  I totally understand why CS Lewis uses this imagery. I mean England is in an all-out war for survival currently.  Germany is bombing London day and night.   War has permeated every letter of England’s story.   His understanding of evil and his call to fight against it is perfectly placed for that time.   But to claim that “the enemy” has taken over the world?   That every day we are in “enemy territory”?!?   Doesn’t that seem a little strongly put?!   I’m wondering if there is a way to tell this story in a way that “war” isn’t the lens in which we see it.

I also would like to challenge him to broaden his understanding of the human condition.   For Lewis, humankind is a fallen race whose problem put simply is: SIN.  But I’m not at all sure that’s the only struggle we have.  For me this world also struggles with apathy, despair, hopelessness, and motivation.   Yes, our story speaks to the issues of sin, but how does our story speak to the victim of sexual violence who is trying to figure out how to face another day?

As I ponder these struggles, I’m forever grateful for the depth and breadth of the Christian story.  As I study the different interpretations of our storyline, I marvel at the many different voices that are a part of who we are.  We are such a wonderful and diverse people!  And that is one of the reasons I am a United Methodist.  Our founder, John Wesley, in a sermon he preached called “on the catholic spirit” (“catholic” here meaning “universal”).   In the sermon, John Wesley, speaking with working with folks who have different understandings of the Christian faith says this:

If it be, give me your hand.” I do not mean, “Be of my opinion.” You need not. I do not expect or desire it. Neither do I mean, “I will be of your opinion.” I cannot, it does not depend on my choice. I can no more think, than I can see or hear, as I will. Keep your opinion and I will keep mine, and that as steadily as ever. You need not even endeavor to come over to me or bring me over to you. I do not desire you to dispute those points, or to hear or speak one word  concerning them. Leave all opinions alone on one side and the other: only “give me your hand.
— John Wesley
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 I love that part of our heritage.  A heritage that says: “Hey, there are some homeless folk over there who need our help.  I don’t care right now what your view of infant baptism is.  What I care about is those homeless folks.  If you care, I urge you to take my hand and join me!” In the end, it’s what we do that is our witness.  May our beliefs move us to action.

Your friend and pastor, trying my hand at basic training, Brook

Tim Schaaf