Wednesdays are study days for me as a pastor. I relish these days because they center me; they allow my mind and spirit to catch up with my body. They slow me down. They move me beyond administrivia. They nourish my soul. Today, I'm reading someone who's becoming a favorite writer of mine, N.T. Wright, a superb British theologian, the Bishop of Durham, and, as far as I can tell, a pretty normal guy (which isn't always the case in the rarefied atmosphere of theology). In particular, I am reading Wright's weighty tome, "The Resurrection of the Son of God." It's a magisterial, in-depth look at different views of the body, soul, and the afterlife during the time of Jesus. Today, as Wright was examining the apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he made this big point: he saw Paul's main intent in writing as getting them to identify themselves as part of the new narrative story inaugurated by Jesus and his resurrection. "[T]his is the story the Corinthians ought to be telling themselves about who they are and how their lives should be shaped. Becoming Christians does not simply free them from the constraints of their previous lives in order to leave them in a moral, or even narratival, vacuum. It weaves them into a new grand narrative..."
Wright, or in this case, Paul, was urging his readers to recall who they were--and what story they were a part of--in light of Jesus and his resurrection. Because of their faith in Jesus and, more importantly, because of what Jesus achieved in his sacrificial death and bodily resurrection, their lives, their identities, their futures, their roles, all of these were permanently changed. The biggest danger for them was forgetting who they were, whose they were, and what they were on earth for.
That's the take-home for today: three big questions whose answers we must keep before us daily. Who are we? Whose are we? What are we here for? Our answers to these basic questions determine the shape and trajectory of our lives. Get the answers wrong and we live in subjection to smaller stories, enslaving idols, yawning boredom. Get the answers right--and more importantly, keep the answers before us daily, and we live life fully, richly, adventurously.
So who are you? Are you an accident? A mere by-product of chance in a nameless, purposeless universe? Who are you? An animal with animal urges, the highest animal, of course, but an animal nonetheless? Who are you? A creature born to die? The sum total of your strengths and achievements minus your weaknesses and failures? Who are you? A consumer whose primary goals are comfort, convenience, and the steady fulfillment of self and senses? Who are you?!
The Christian, the one consciously living inside the Jesus story, answers with the following: I am a human being, a curious and wonderful hybrid of body and spirit. I'm hand-made by God, known and loved by my Creator from all eternity. I'm the highest of the created order on earth, gifted with a rational mind and creative spirit that reflect the image of my God. Though I've fallen out of intimate relationship with God due to my sinful self-absorption (this turning inward of my God-gaze), God has pursued me wonderfully, reached out to me, given me new life, and secured me to himself--all through the amazing journey of his Son, the man-God Jesus Christ. Because of Christ and his painful death on the cross, because of his victory over death at Easter, I am forgiven, fresh, new, guilt-free. I'm an adopted child of my heavenly Father, a new creation, an heir of Christ's riches. My life has purpose, meaning, security...even adventure. That's who I am. Who are you?
I realize that in answering the first question ("Who am I?"), I've also begun to answer the second two ("Whose am I?" and "What am I here for?"). I'd like to develop these questions and answers at a later date. For now, I'm really struck with this need to live consciously within the greater Story. All day long, I'm tempted to forget this story and buy into lesser stories: materialism (all that's really real and meaningful is the material), hedonism (the highest goal of life is the pursuit of pleasure), consumerism (the best use of my time and energy is consuming finer and finer things), egotism (I'm the center of life and reality). Ugh. These demote the grandeur and glory of what it means to be human. It's so subtle, but these lesser messages and shallower stories are thrown at us all day long. From TV, the Internet, the printed media, entertainment, advertizing, we are immersed in messages telling us who we are, whose we are, and what we're here on earth for. For me, I've got to resist these consciously and purposely by reminders of the Greater Story. I need the repetitive mantra, supplied by Scripture, worship, and Christian community to remind me of my true identity and the bigger story. I am God's child, bought by Christ's sacrifice, secure, loved, and lifted up into a Story much bigger than my own. A story of love and pain and hope.
That's plenty for today!