Sunday’s Sermon

            Friday, July 15th will prove to be a remarkable day.  I know this not because I am a prophet or a future-teller, but simply because I’ve checked Google.  And Google tells me that the final Harry Potter movie will be released on Friday, July 15th.  Children of all ages will be lined up for hours, if not days, before the official release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two.  Every movie theater in the country will buzz with excitement as fans delight in the final installment of this blockbuster series.
            Now don’t be ashamed, I know that many of you will be there, dutifully buying your movie ticket.  Some of you may even dress up as Harry or Dumbledore.  I expect that Maggie and I will also see Harry Potter in the theater – and along with the rest of the audience, we’ll get totally sucked into the movie. 
So what makes all these millions of people spend all these millions of dollars to watch a movie?  What makes Harry Potter so attractive, such an entertainment phenomenon?  It’s easy really, it’s just a really good story.
            The whole Harry Potter series has all the ingredients for a dynamite story.  It has interesting characters who develop throughout the course of the narrative – some you love and some you hate.  It has a few twists in the plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat.  The story opens up your imagination as you enter into the world of Hogwartz and wizards.  And, admittedly, I find Harry Potter entertaining because I know I would really enjoy playing quidditch.  So it’s simple – people love Harry Potter because Harry Potter is a really good story.
            We all have our favorite books, our well-loved family stories, and admit it, all of us has a tall tale or two.  Yet despite all of our differences, our different taste in books, whether we like Harry Potter or not, if we prefer mystery novels to science fiction novels, we all share a common story.  This is the ongoing story of God’s love for the world.
            The Christian story is tremendous and like all good stories, the Christian one has its fair share of interesting characters and even a few twists in the plot.  In the sacred stories of scripture, reaching all the way back to the very beginning of Genesis, there is an individual character who shows up time and again in the Bible.  This is Abraham, who is called out by God to leave his home and travel to a new land, the promised land.  Abraham trusts God and believes in God’s promises.  In return, God calls Abraham righteous.  In our passage from Romans, Paul upholds Abraham as the image of the faithful person, the righteous person.  Now notice: Paul doesn’t tell us that Abraham was morally pure, because he wasn’t.  Rather, Abraham is righteous because he allows God to be the author of his life.  Let’s the suppose the entire history of the world is a book.  Abraham’s faithfulness and his belief in God’s promise is the first chapter.
            Then, through Jesus Christ’s birth, temptation, crucifixion, and resurrection, you and I are brought into Abraham’s family.  Abraham’s family has become the church.  The church is people like you and me who believe in God’s promises.  Like Abraham, that faith leads to righteousness.  Not that we are morally pure, because Lord knows that we’re not.  But righteousness means that we have a holy relationship with God.  Anybody who is faithful in Christ is now part of Abraham’s family; though we aren’t related by blood, we are now a family because we are one in Christ.  In God’s history of the world, Christ’s sacrifice is the the second chapter.
            Here comes the third and final chapter.  That last blockbuster installment of an epic story. The question is now longer, “are we going to heaven?”  That was covered in chapters one and two.  The radical nature of God’s love affair with the world is that we are now characters in this story.  That’s right, in God’s blockbuster epic, which is real life, we all have a role to play.  The whole point of the third chapter is figuring out how to play our part.  This is our chapter, our scene on the stage of life when what we do as characters really does matter. 
Now we must make an important distinction.  You and I are not the authors of this chapter, we are but characters.  It is the Holy Spirit who is the author of our lives.  We ask the Holy Spirit how to play our parts, what lines to say, who to love.  Our lives are our stories, and when we let the Holy Spirit compose those stories, our lives are more beautiful and holier.
So here we are – plopped down into a particular part of God’s love story with the world.  Chapter three is very long, stretching from that first Easter day to right now.  Lots of things have happened in chapter three, but our role as characters is not to simply muse on what happened in the previous pages.  As Christian characters in God’s love story we have to look ahead and discern what the author of our lives would have us do. 
For instance, as characters in God’s novel, we can just cross our fingers and hope that people show up to this church that we love so dearly.  Or, we can ask the Holy Spirit, the author, for guidance.  And perhaps the Holy Spirit will write a new story for us – a story in which St. Alban’s creatively engages our community in fresh and righteous ways.  This will be a new scene in which we share the same love that God has for us with the people of Waco. 
And now, you and I are characters in another story of violence.  Just last night, the U.S. Navy fired missiles into Libya in support of a rebellion against a cruel dictator.  As characters in this real life story with God, we have two options.  We can either wring our hands and fret, asking “how did this happen?”  Or, we can look ahead, and ask, “how can we, as Christians, pray and look for the peace of God which surpasses all understanding?”  I believe that the Holy Spirit can and will write a new episode in which the church responds to this crisis with an abundance of prayer and gospel-witness for the peace of the world.
We can’t run away from the plot and the setting that we find ourselves in.  Sure, the world is changing at an ever-increasing rate, but that doesn’t mean that God loves it any less.  Our role as characters in life, in God’s love story, is not to wish that things were like they used to be.  Our role as characters in God’s love story is to make things how they should be.
We do all of this with an abundance of confidence because we know how the story really ends.  Paul says that the Holy Spirit, the author of our salvation, will give life to the dead and call into existence the things that do not exist. Trusting in the Holy Spirit, we can become characters in a story in which we create new solutions and solve the crises here and in the Middle East.  Where it seems that hopes for peace have died, the Holy Spirit can gave life to newer, more innovative ideas.  If it seems that peace in the world is just impossible, then we have to seek God in calling into existence new avenues of diplomacy and mutual understanding.  Trusting in the God’s promises, we can be part of story in which the Church spreads the good news of Jesus Christ in loving and creative ways.

          For the Church of God, every Sunday is a record day at the box office.  With billions of 
Christians around the world, we come together to discern who God wants us to be in his love story 
with the world…….. So don’t just wait for the next installment in God’s love story to come out on 
Netflix, or say to yourself that you’ll wait for it in paperback.  God’s promises are for right here, and 
right now – have faith, and be righteous.  Jump in line right now.  Pick up your part, and learn your 
lines as a character in God’s love story.  Christian characters don’t wait for the world around them to 
change, Christians change the world.

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