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The Clash of Stories

The Rev. Joseph Winston

March 21, 2008 – Tenebrae

Sermon

Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1
We live in a world that loves to tell stories about itself. It has always been this
way. One example that almost everyone knows by heart comes from the Greeks.
During the sixth century before Christ, Aesop (620 – 560 BCE) either collected or
wrote stories that are still told today. How many of these titles do you recognize?
“The Ant and the Grasshopper,” “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” “The Crow and the
Pitcher,” “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” “The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs,”
and “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.”
The main characters in these stores that we all share through the millenniums
need not be about either children or animals. These tales that we all know can
involve something even more important to us than morals. We can tell stories that
1
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians
1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3

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help maintain our influence over others.
The normal characters in these stories about power are our leaders. In these
accounts, they are the ones that bring us peace and prosperity. Depending on
the threat placed upon the country, the plot changes ever so slightly. If enemies
threaten our well-being, then it is the powerful ones who protect the borders so
that we can sleep safely at night. When times are good, it is the king and the queen
who keep the gods happy so that the country’s wealth increases. Before the advent
of cash, accumulating prosperity meant that the land produced bountiful crops, the
animals gave birth, and families increased. In times of crises, the leadership of a
country provides someone to rally around. These stories tell us that if we follow
our leader’s examples then we will be saved from what afflicts us.
The only real change in today’s stories about power is that we now measure
wealth with cash rather than using land, animals, or children. Once we remove
this basic difference out of the equation, it is obvious that we are hearing the
same stories told throughout the ages. Just listen to the political advertisements
during this presidential election and compare them to the stories about the Roman
Emperors to prove this fact.
Our political ads today show the supported candidate in a favorable light while
discounting the opposition’s position. Stories from the past about the leaders fol-
low this same pattern. The powerful spread tails that will keep them in power and
will do everything necessary to wipe out the message advanced by the competi-
tion.
Tonight’s Gospel lesson shows us in vivid detail what happens when someone

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advances a message that is not in line with the official state story that the powerful
make the world go round. They are killed.
This clash between God’s Word and humanity’s story did not just occur during
the two days described in today’s lesson. It has been building since the beginning
of time. The author of John puts it this way, “He was in the world, and the world
was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John 1:10).
To solve the problem of two completely different narratives about how the
world operates, the Father sent Jesus into the world (John 1:13). His hope was
that we would clearly see the real power behind the world because Jesus brought
both God’s love and God’s way of life to us (John 1:14, 17).
Despite God’s best work, only a few people did not reject Christ’s message
that we are to love one another as Jesus first loved them (John 13:34). The rest of
us, played out in John’s account by the Jews and the Romans, saw Christ’s Word
for what it is: a threat to our stories and our way of life.
The only way to deal with this problem of someone moving onto your turf
is to remove the One causing the issue. That is exactly what happened to Jesus.
Lifelong enemies became close friends and we joined our forces to put Jesus on a
cross so that we would no longer have to listen to His Word that we are called to
serve others.
In our minds, we think that real power comes from being on the top of the
heap. From this position, we then can control people to do our bidding, which
is nothing more than ordering them to keep us in power. One effective way of
achieving this end is to tell stories that they must believe. The sun rises because I

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rule the land. The rain comes since I am in charge. I bring peace with my sword.
Every one of these tails is obviously untrue. Leaders do not control creation and
peace always comes through the will of the people.
Now there are many different ways that one can tell a competing story. You
can act like an excited teenager and shout it out and hope to drown out any compe-
tition. You could be like a child and throw a temper tantrum hoping that someone
pays some attention to what you have to say. Or you might behave like an adult
and try to spend some time with someone and try to win them over.
God took the final option. Jesus came and lived with us. During His time with
us, He illustrated the story that He wanted us to know by showing us how we are
to serve by loving those people closest to us. Sometimes this happened through
signs. He turned water into wine. He cured the sick. He raised the dead. And at
other times, He told us stories about the relationship between Him and His people.
This image made a lasting impression on many people because even today you still
can see pictures and statues of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
There is one other thing that Jesus will do for you. If you do not reject Him,
you no longer have to fear death. As a believer, Jesus promises that the judgement
on you has already come and gone. You are accepted (John 5:24). In addition to
this gift of being forgiven, Jesus gives you eternal life right now (John 5:24).
This present from Jesus does not mean that you will not have to face death.
Rather it is a promise from Jesus that He will raise you up on the last day (John
6:39, 40, 44, 54).
The world in which we live is full of many different stories. We know for a

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fact that they cannot all be true. We come to this conclusion because we do not
trust the one who is telling us the tail. We know that they are pulling the wool over
our eyes so that they can remain in power.
The Gospel of our Lord and Savior is another story that we all have heard. Our
decision on the validity of this message must follow the exact same guidelines as
any other story. Do we trust the One who tells us about the gift of eternal life that
is ours?
We have all the problems associated with two completely different conversa-
tions here at Trinity Lutheran. The newspaper article describing this church is but
one example of the difficult situation that we have made for ourselves. In this re-
port, we state that one large advantage of this church when compared to others
is that everyone here knows your name. The people who live and work around
us hear a something else. The word that they get from us is that we do not exist.
Apparently, we are very consistent in what we are saying because the existence
of a Lutheran church that has been here for almost forty years takes them by sur-
prise. It is obvious that the message of welcome that we would like to proclaim
has never left these doors.
Near the end of 2006, we were one of one hundred and sixty-four churches
that were given a grant from the ELCA’s Evangelical Outreach and Congregation
Mission. A key part in our proposal was, “To identify at least one local popula-
tion that Trinity can engage in dialog.” The plan was that the congregation would
identify one group in the community. Then twelve people plus the pastor would
go to this group and ask them about their needs, wants, and desires. This brings

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us to the second illustration of the two different messages that we are speaking.
We tell each other that we are warm and welcoming but our actions say something
else. In the eighteen months since we agreed to talk with others about what they
need for life, we have not been able to identify any group. This speaks volumes
about us. Our belief at Trinity Lutheran really is, “Let them take the first step. If
they can find us, we will welcome them otherwise we do not care what they might
need.”
If we are to survive, we must stop our destructive behavior. We must start
speaking and acting using one voice. And if we want to be a church and not some
social club or a place for family to gather, this means that we must go and tell
Christ’s story to the world. You will have to leave this place and serve others as
Christ first served you and not just talk about it.
“The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and
minds through Christ Jesus.”2

2
Philippians 4:7.