By Pastor Marty Troyer
I’ve always been Biblically fairly precocious. I have fond memories of reading my picture Bible with dad, flannel graph in Sunday School, Story Book videos, and being the Troyer family Bible trivia champ year in and year out. I also remember being stunned as a freshman in college to learn that the David who killed Goliath as a wily kid was the same David who grew up to become King of Israel. Since that fateful day at Hesston College 16 years ago, I think by my count I’ve read the whole Bible 10 times and the New Testament twice that many times. So hopefully I wouldn’t make such a silly mistake today.
The Christian education I grew up with taught me the stories in scripture. And I knew the individual stories, or lots of them anyway (there are hundreds of individual stories and vignettes in scripture), along with dozens of the main characters. What I, like many, did not know was THE story. It wasn’t until college and adulthood that I realized that the Bible isn’t just a collection of great stories (and it is!), it is moreso a story that has a beginning, middle, and an end. Instead of the Bible being a collection of individual beads you can arrange anyway you want to, it is a necklace with beads strung together in proper sequence. Only in seeing them together can the single stories about David be transformed from stories about heroes to THE story of God redeeming people.
But the truly astonishing thing about the Bible is not that it is just one story. Oh no! The most fantastic feature of the Bible is that it proves to be our story. We ourselves are characters in the ongoing story of God reconciling the world to itself and the divine. We are invited to participate in the greatest story ever told, to stand beside Abraham and Sarah, Peter, Mary, and Martha as participants in the unfolding plan of God. Some have likened “God’s story” to a play in 4 Acts. Act 1 highlights the story before Jesus; Act 2 is the climax of the story in Jesus of Nazareth; we’re characters living in Act 3; and Act 4 is the fulfillment of all God’s dreams for his creation. It is a story whose end is yet to come.
So, how does Scripture function at Houston Mennonite Church? It functions to invite us in to God’s story, to see ourselves and our own individual stories as being the story of the people of God. My story, our story, is God’s story! Michele Hershberger, Professor of Bible at Hesston College, says it this way: “Choose God’s Story as your own. Out of all the ways of understanding who we are and why we are, we choose the Story of how God has been loving and drawing us through Jesus Christ. This story now defines our identity and our way of looking at the world. We ‘believe’ Jesus (God’s Story, Our Story: Exploring Christian Faith and Life, pg 112).”
When we see God’s story as our own, the Bible begins to read and interpret us. This is the story that reveals us as we truly are, and as we were from the beginning intended to be. Likewise, this story above all others reveals the world as it truly is, and as it was from the beginning intended to be. In other words, it becomes our guide and source book. It no longer describes the actions and beliefs of people back then. Instead it describes the actions and beliefs of us today. This is precisely why we call ourselves “The church of the Sermon on the Mount.” Because we believe that sermon is our sermon; and more importantly, that the preacher of that sermon is our preacher. As Hershberger has said many times, “Jesus meant what he said, and he was talking to us.” Jesus’ call for the disciples to “follow me” is God’s call on our lives. When Jesus said in Acts 1 “you will be my witnesses,” he is looking right at us. When he said “come to me all that are weary and I will give you rest,” he’s thinking about your tiredness and need for care. Paul’s notion about everyone having gifts and needing to share in leadership isn’t just an antiquated way of surviving without a pastor, it’s a challenge we must accept to share the work of ministry at Houston Mennonite. And when Paul says in our upcoming Sunday text that “we are ambassadors for Christ…working together with him,” he’s thinking about Malakai, Rosa, Liza and Lilya- our children who will one day grow up to participate in the ongoing work of God on earth.
As I preach each week I seek to respond to God’s call on us by being faithful to myself, the text I’m preaching from, and our context. As I said last week, the texts we use in worship are not random, but intentionally chosen to center us on Christ by inviting us in to the story. As pastor and preacher this is my ultimate goal- to orient your lives to Christ our center as we navigate God’s story together. May this be so for you as you continue to read the Lenten texts, listen to the sermons, hear God’s word read aloud in worship, and study Scripture together corporately in Sunday School and the Journey.
May you enter God’s story as your own!