Your Framing Story: Setting you free or caging you in?
(with thanks to Brian D. McLaren, Everything must change, Thomas Nelson, 2007)
In part 1 of this series we noted that when Jesus met people He offered them a new framing story, one that would have them live a new kind of life, the kind of life He called ‘life in all its fullness’. To the woman caught in adultery He says, “Neither then do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” To the rich young ruler he says, “Give to the poor, come and follow me…”
Today I want us to consider what happens when the story we have bought into is itself falling apart? When it is built on the sand and not the rock? On the Durban beachfront, from time to time, there is a very talented man who carves and shapes the most beautiful sculptures out of the beach sand. Then he sits there with his hat, hoping for some kind of gift from admiring passers-by. Now, imagine being so impressed by his work that you said, “I’m investing all my money in one of these beautiful sculptures.” Well, that first day you are as proud as punch! You see the passers-by looking and commenting on your possession and your chest swells with pride. “Yes,” you say, “I have done the right thing.” But what happens the next day? When you go down to the beach the wind and water have done what they do: your lovely sculpture is all gone! An unstable framing story may last for a while but when you wake up and look again, what will be left standing? Churches can also buy into decaying framing stories. To check on our framing stories we need to go beyond the superficial to the very foundations.
Jesus challenges stories that at first seem great (at a superficial level) but will let us down with a huge bump. Then Jesus offers us a framing story (in fact the ONLY framing story) that will last. This new framing story he calls “The Kingdom of God”. He says, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The temporary framing stories have their appeal all right. They are repeated on our TV screens, in our conversations and at our schools. They are taught by the guru’s of our age, on sports fields and in business. Let’s see how they compare to Jesus’ Kingdom of God.
1. That the only real life of value is the ‘high life’ of success, fame, fortune, irresponsible sexuality. The idols of our age epitomise this for us. The Kingdom of God story can be found in Matthew 5: 1 – 10: Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of rightousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. That the way to defeat our enemies is through violence and revenge, and that this will bring peace with no counter-violence. (Think of countless movie themes and the current wars world-wide.) The Kingdom of God story is again found in Matthew 5, this time in verses 38 to 40. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”
3. That happiness consists in that next purchase, controlling things, having status. A consumer mentality that will leave our earth stripped of its created glory. Luke 12: 15 – 21 tells of a different way: Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Read the story of a rich man storing up his wealth for himself in the next few verses.) Jesus continues, “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich towards God.”
4. That the more people (organisations, towns, countries) you have dominance over, the higher up on the ladder of life you are. In Mark 10 James and John have an argument about which one is the greatest, asking Jesus if they could sit on his right and left up in heaven, making the other disciples very indignant. Jesus calls them together and says: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
5. Self-actualisation is all about achievement, getting to be number one, looking good, becoming your own god. Read Matthew 16 : 24 – 27 to see what Jesus has to say: “Whoever want to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
6. We must only help our own. Jesus shocks his listeners with the story found in Matthew 25: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”. And in Matthew 5 : 43 – 48 he turns the conventional wisdom on its head: “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven……If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”
7. That there is no consequence for choosing a decaying life story. This is turned around, also in Matthew 25, with the story of the sheep and the goats. Verse 45: “He will reply, ‘truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
8. Life is all about quick fixes. Although we all wish this were true, Jesus tells two parables in Matthew 13:31 – 33, comparing the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed (from small beginnings into a huge tree) and to yeast, (which permeates through sixty pounds of dough).
The heart of Jesus’ message was to proclaim that “The Kingdom of God has come near.” (Mark 1 : 15) God is not here to condemn, nor to ensure that one day we arrive at heaven’s gates with an entry ticket (which we will probably struggle to locate in our wallets.) He primarily comes to offer us an alternative and enduring way of living NOW. This way of living he calls ‘the Kingdom of God.’ We don’t have to kick-start it. It has its own momentum. It is God’s Kingdom: He started it, He leads it and He will complete it. That is GRACE. All God asks is that we simply belive in the King and the Kingdom; that it is The Way and walk in it.
Making our Covenant is taking this step – replacing one framing story with another. Today God says “Choose which framing story you are going to live out – the decaying story which this world cannot sustain for much longer, or a new way marked by forgiveness, generosity, relationship, simple lifestyle, service, being a Christ-follower in the way of God’s Kingdom.
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