S3-E23 – Your Place in the Story, Pt. 1 – *or Anybody Want a Peanut?

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Your Place in the Story, Pt. 1 - *or Anybody Want a Peanut?

by Matthew Clark | One Thousand Words

https://www.matthewclark.net/mcwordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/OTW_S3-E23-Anybody-want-a-peanut.mp3

Can you finish this movie quote for me?

If I say, “Stop rhyming, I mean it!” What do you say? “Anybody want a peanut?”

Or how about this one:

If I say, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya.” And you say, “You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

If you knew what to say, how did you know? Because you’ve participated in a specific cultural liturgy called watching The Princess Bride. But what if you haven’t seen this movie? You didn’t get the joke, did you? You’re thinking, “Ok, there’s some story all these other people know, that I don’t know.” So the reference was lost on you. It meant nothing. Everybody who has seen The Princess Bride shares a common narrative that unites a variety of people by supplying shared language, images, events, storyline.

Those who’ve spent years practicing this liturgy of watching Westly and Buttercup’s love story (who knows how many times) can recognize one another; they both move within the same established narrative. So, I can imagine a woman ordering a sandwich at a cafe and the waiter replies with “As you wish”, and they both knowingly smile. “Oh here’s someone like me, we’re living in the same story,” they both say to themselves.

The early Christians, under severe persecution, would meet someone in the dusty road and casually draw a simple fish-shape called an Ichthus in the dirt with their foot. If the other person noticed and repeated the action, they knew they were both living in the same story. “This is a brother. This is a sister in Christ,” they’d say to themselves and knowingly smile.

Some of you listening may be able to finish this quote: “The Lord be with you…” And you say, “And also with you” or “and with your spirit.”

But how? How did you know what to say? Because you’ve participated – not in a secular liturgy like watching The Princess Bride – but in a specifically Christian liturgy. Practicing that liturgy over time has worked this specific narrative into your bones. Christian worship unites a variety of people by supplying shared language, images, events, and storyline. It cultivates a definite culture.

Liturgies are cultural artifacts. They are concrete things that exist in this world that we can actually do with our bodies and minds that help us get the story into our marrow. They’re not magic, they don’t in themselves affect atonement, but they are storytelling devices that work the yeast of the kingdom all through the dough. Rich Mullins has a lyric,

Did they tell you stories about the Saints of old

Stories about their faith?

They say stories like that make a boy grow bold

Stories like that make a man walk straight.

Worship, liturgies, the preaching of the Word, good songs, excellent artwork all, along with the Sacraments, prepare and transform us for acts of faithful obedience in the world. We don’t go to church, we go to worship in order to be the church in the world. We go to worship to get our bearings in a disorienting world; remember who God is, and who we are in light of his mighty acts through Jesus Christ; we go to be supernaturally transformed and equipped for Kingdom life. From there, we leave to be Christ’s Body in the world. I’m thinking of a line from the Eucharistic liturgy I hear every Sunday in the post-communion prayer:

Almighty and everliving God,

we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food

of the most precious Body and Blood

of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ;

and for assuring us in these holy mysteries

that we are living members of the Body of your Son,

and heirs of your eternal kingdom.

And now, Father, send us out

to do the work you have given us to do,

to love and serve you

as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.

To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,

be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

This Sacrament has assured us of our true identity in Christ, “we are living members of the Body of your Son and heirs of your eternal Kingdom.” That is the truth about us. Then, knowing where we came from and where we are going, we are sent out, little-Christs that we are, with a towel around our waist to “love and serve [God] as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” It also serves to supernaturally anoint us.

Anointing is just another way of talking about how God supplies the means to meet his own demands. For instance, if God asks David to be King, David will say, “But I’m young and poor, I don’t have what it takes to the King.” And God says, “Don’t worry, I’ll give you what it takes to do what I’ve asked you to do.” That’s anointing. If God asks you to do something, you can count on him to supply the resources.

To take another instance from the Christian life, God has demanded absolute sinlessness of us. We say, “But God, I don’t have what it takes to be sinless!” And God says, “Don’t worry, I’ll supply the necessary resources for you to be able to meet my demands. I’ll give my Son, Jesus. And then the Holy Spirit will supply new birth.” That’s anointing. But, we don’t live into that anointing all the time do we? Don’t worry, God provides for those us who just maybe have happened to sin after having been saved, saying “if we do sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous… if we confess our sin he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” To be sure, God makes impossible demands of us, but he himself makes the meeting of those demands possible by supplying the means through Jesus. He’s covered all the bases, he’s thought of everything. Each week, we go again to his table to eat a meal that makes the impossible possible, through Christ.

So, the practices and Sacraments of Worship have located me in a particular storyline. This storyline gives my existence an origin and a destination – both in God; the origin is beautiful and so is the destination. I’m swaddled in this story. Life is suddenly flushed with meaning and purpose; I came from somewhere, and I know where I’m going. I came from the loving heart of my Creator, and I am returning to Him to rejoice in the light of his beautiful, loving face.

“Without vision, the people perish,” says Proverbs (29:18). But I don’t have to grope in the darkness anymore; my life has been contextualized. I have a vision and a joy set before me. I can see the pages turning, I can see the movement on the stage of existence, and I’m beginning to pick up on the references that had always escaped me; I can finish the quotes that used to fall flat and meaningless upon my ears.

When someone says to me, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” I think to myself, “I know this story, this is my story!” And I reply, “Who takes away the sins of the world.” And when the world says to me, “You are not enough.” I finish the quote with, “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.” When my sad heart says, “I am too poor,” the Story in my bones pipes up with the proper reply, “You who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” When I make the mistake of despairing and I say, “everything is lost, everything is worthless” the Holy Spirit makes available to me the mind of Christ, saying, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, lead us more deeply into the story you are telling. Give us eyes to see that you are not merely telling one story among many equal stories, but that you are the Root of Reality itself, and the story revealed in and through you is the only true context that makes sense of our hearts, our lives, and indeed, all things, since in you “all things hold together”. Amen.

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