I’ve had the honor to speak at church a few times now. Today, was the time I did the best job, I think, of getting out of the way so that what God wanted me to say could get said. This is the first chunk of what I shared:
So, There were these little pigs. They were ready to grow up and build homes of their own.
The first made a house of straw. And along came the big bad wolf. And he said “Little pig, little pig, let me in,” “And the pigs said, ‘not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chin.’ And the wolf said, “Then, I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.” And he took a great inhalation, and then he roared, and he knocked the pigs house down.
I hope you’ll notice there’s something missing from my take on that story. If you’d never heard that story before, what would you think of it? And more importantly, if you’ve never heard that story before, what would you infer happens after the house got knocked down?
If we don’t know the end of the story, I think we’d assume the Wolf had himself a BLT for lunch. If we don’t know the end of the story, I think we’d consider that a pretty lousy story, and a rather tragic one.
If you did know that story, on the other hand, you’d probably tell me I got it all wrong. I could say, “Well, did I get the beginning part wrong, where the pig moves away.”
And you’d probably say, “Well, no, you didn’t get that part wrong… You over simplified, because in my version, there are 3 pigs. But mostly that’s right. The pigs grew up and moved away.”
And I could say “What about the wolf? Did I get that wrong?”
And you’d have to say, “No, there’s a wolf in my story, too.”
And I could say, “How about the dialogue. I mean, it sounds kind of stupid, chinny-chin-chin”
You’d have to say, “No, they talk that stupid in mine…”
And we could keep going. And you’d have to admit that there was no one specific part of my story that was wrong: it was merely that I took too narrow a view, I wasn’t willing to pull back far enough to share the end of the story that you would prefer.
I’d like to suggest that the person who determines what scene counts as the ending is the person who determines what kind of story it is. The message of “Three Little Pigs” is “Life stinks” if you stop it where I did.
If you end “Romeo and Juliet” after their wedding, around act 2 or 3, it’s a cute little Romantic Comedy. This seems to be the version that ___ listened to before she wrote the song. If you stop “The Princess Bride” before they find out Wesley is only mostly dead, it’s a pretty tragic tale. Or you could go the other direction. If they added a scene onto….
If you take any story, and end it in a different place, you have shaped a very different story. Notice how you don’t need to change the facts of the story itself. You just need to change what counts as the last scene.
One of the reasons that this is so significant is that what we believe about the story we are in shapes the sort of characters we are in a huge way. We wouldn’t put bumbling air heads in an action movie. We wouldn’t put ponderous philosophers in a comedy. Once we figure out what kind-of story we are in, we work hard at being the sort of characters who populate this story.
I was trying to work these questions out around the time I came to Christ. The church’s intern put together this battle of the bands at the opening of a skate park at the YMCA. My wife and I and a few members of our small group ended up supporting them by selling hot dogs, nachos, waters, and stuff.
It was a hot summer day. And there we were, representing the church.
This cute, sweaty, skate boarding kid came up to me. And he asked me if he could have a water for free. I pointed him to the water fountain inside. And when I turned around, my wife was looking at me quizzically.
There was this sort-of awkward moment between myself and everybody else.
She’d been a Christian most of her life. And to her, it went with out saying. In a situation like that, you just give the kid a water. For me, this was a pretty mind-altering idea. I’ve been a left wing hippie sort my whole life. Then and now, I’m not one to put much faith in Adam Smith’s invisible hands… and yet, I was living in a story with a certain sort of ending. I was living in a story where the order of things, the way things were ones where you earned and deserved what you got. Kiley, on the other hand, lived in a story where you deserve more than you got. She had a belief that the old order would pass away. At the end of the story. And she was living these changes out in the here and now.
One of the things that I think is worth noticing is that this issue wasn’t one of beliefs. I was taking baby steps, but at that point, I had taken steps. If you had asked me about heaven, I would have told you I believed in at that point.
But the heaven I believed in? It wasn’t much of a heaven. I began with what I could see, and assumed that the future would be pretty much like that.. It would have been very easy for me to get stuck where I was. Many of the problems I have are because I do get stuck back there, some times. I box in God. I put these limits on the end of the story. I believe that the end of the story I’m living in isn’t much better or different than the world is now.
I think it’s also clear that this dynamic is relevant for people who don’t call themselves Christians. As you might have noticed, we’ve been experimenting with something new here at FC. We’ve created a story about a fictious family, the Elliots, and we’re following them through a season of their life.
The Elliots have been given reason to wonder what sort-of story they are in. The story began with a funeral, and it brought with it questions. One way to express these questions: What sort of story are we in?
None of us can deny that death happens. But when families experience the death of a loved one, the question on everyone’s mind is “What happens next?” Is death the end of the story? Or is there something after?
This question plays itself out in two different ways. There is the question for the individual. In the case of the Elliots, there is the survivors are wondering: Does Jonah still exist? Is he living on? Will he be reborn?
And today we saw Sam grappling with the other portion of the question. He noticed this connection between himself and Pastor Rick. Though Sam never new it, Rick was in some way responsible for Sam’s love of the music of Peter Murphy.
There’s a much more important side to this question. Do we impact the world around us? Does our influence spread beyond us? Or does it die with us?
There are other questions going on, in the Elliots, about where the story ends. We hope you’re a little bit curious about the interaction between Hillary Elliot and Pastor Rick. You might have guessed they have some shared mistakes in their past. It’s an incredibly important question: when we make mistakes, when we get hurt, is this the end of the story? Or is there something that comes after this?
I’d like to spend our time together exploring this today. What is our hope in? What do we hope for? What is the end of the story we’re living? When we know the answer to that question—what kind of story are we living in—then there will be significant changes in the sort-of characters that we’re going to be.
In the book of Romans, Paul says this: in chapters 8 verses 18-25:
18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[i] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.