Week 3: Sin

We humans are naturals at self-righteousness and we have excellent skills at self-deception. Martin Luther (and Augustine before him) talked about sin as “the self curving in on itself,” Homo incurvatus in se.

This “curving” I think is part of what it means to be human, each of us individually and all of us together. The nations we build, the societies we form, even the churches that are supposed to offer a radical alternative to this universal human tendency—even the church all too often is a “self curving in on itself.”

When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome, his description of human sinfulness was stark and startling. Something like the Genesis description of the downward spiral of humanity in the days of Noah. Something like the heart breaking cries of the psalmist. Something like the systemic brokenness of the world of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. Something like the ugly realities of ovens of Auschwitz, or killing fields of Cambodia, or slave ships in the Middle Passage. Something like the gut wrenching stories we keep hearing every time we open the newspaper or turn on our TV.

The human condition is shot through with a sense of separation from God, with a reality of estrangement from one another, and with a deep awareness of fragmentation within our own souls. Our bending in upon ourselves is an embedded pattern that perpetuates itself from generation to generation.

Awareness of these realities can spiral us down into despair.

Or this awareness can be the soil within which grace grows roots and redemption bears fruit.

Surely Paul wrote Romans in conversation with the Adam and Eve story in Genesis 3: “Where are you?” the Creator calls, walking in the garden in the cool of the evening. “Where are you? I miss you.”

This sad story says the humans were hiding, their eyes opened to the estrangement that had now come into existence. Their eyes opened to their new independence that felt a lot like isolation. The humans were now untethered and set adrift from the Source of their life. That’s what broken relationship looks like and feels like. These broken relationships are everywhere we turn, and they break our hearts. Or at least, I hope this breaks our heart; I daresay it breaks God’s heart . . .

This God of Justice and Grace is the one upon whom we are called to bend ourselves so that our lives will align with that which is true and good and right and just; so that we may be the body of Christ working God’s work in the world.

Like the priest who offered radical grace to Jean Valjean, we are called to be God’s partners, offering new possibilities in life’s impossible circumstances; called to do God’s work in our broken communities, created to shine God’s light into this stubborn darkness, challenged to inject grace into the vicious cycles of whatever Jean Valjeans may show up on our doorsteps.

And we don’t stop. We don’t stop entrusting ourselves and our families and our communities to the Creator who is still creating and recreating goodness out of our every chaos . . .


Read more at Coyle, Charlotte Vaughan. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 61-63). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Readings for Living in The Story Week 3

Genesis 3-11

Psalm 5

Psalm 10

Psalm 53

Romans 1–3

John 9-12

Week 2: Creation

In the first creation story of chapter 1, we see Israel’s testimony that God is the Transcendent One, outside of creation, speaking and willing everything into existence, while in the second creation story in chapter 2, God is the Immanent One, intimately bound to creation.

God is both/and, unsearchable and yet, at the same time, known. Unreachable and also near like a friend in a garden.

In this conception of a purposely-crafted creation, the biblical authors claim that we humans are God’s creatures, God’s desire, God’s beloved—and ultimately God’s responsibility.

These stories remember the one who is Source, Sustainer, and Goal; they remind who we are and why we exist. They remind us whose we are—creatures of the creation intimately bound to the Creator. The stories remind us who we are and they remind us whose we are.

The stories teach us that God is God and we are not.

This re-writing, re-telling, re-imagining became Israel’s Scripture, and these creation stories continue to be foundational stories for Jews and Christians alike because they affirm that our very existence is gift and grace . . .


Read more at Coyle, Charlotte Vaughan. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 51-52). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.


Readings for Living in The Story Week 2

(Follow the links to read in BibleGateway)

Genesis 1 and 2

Psalm 29

Psalm 33

Psalm 104

Psalm 148

Proverbs 8

John 1-8

Colossians

We Begin with Faith

Our first week of reading the Bible with Living in The Story begins by considering the nature of Scripture. Together we will ponder the question, “what kind of book is the Bible?” as we read this week.

A popular aphorism says: “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” I absolutely believe this. We all interpret. We all interpret everything. There is no such thing as un-interpreted awareness. We all have some lens or another through which we see the world. We all have a framework with which we make meaning. This was as true of the biblical writers as it is true of us Bible readers.

The authors of these ancient texts began with faith. They started with a confidence that God was somehow in their story and as they collected and recollected the stories of their life together as God’s people, they sought to understand its meaning.

The biblical writers are not, for the most part, apologists, arguing for their faith in a way that was designed to convince nonbelievers. Rather their writings were intended to confess and explore their faith within a community of faith . . .


Read more at Coyle, Charlotte Vaughan. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 32-33). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Readings for Living in The Story Week 1

Deuteronomy 6-8

Psalm 119

2 Timothy 3

John 5

The Story of Love and Grace

Do you know how many creation stories are told in the Bible? This is not a complete list but it gives a sense of some of the Bible’s rich complexity.

Most people probably know about the version we find in Genesis 1. The Creator creates from a distance and outside of creation.

In the beginning— was God, creating the heavens and the earth . . . Then God said, “Let there be light.”

And God said. And God said. And God said.

Like a brilliant composer, imagination becomes palpable reality, and the music of the cosmos is created. Like a master conductor, with a nod to the string section, and then a wave to the woodwinds, and now a sweeping movement toward the brass section, a complex, polyphonic symphony of harmonies and melodies comes into existence.

“And God said.”

And then God created the humans in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female God created them. And God blessed them . . .

And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

Then there’s a different creation story in Genesis 2. Here the Creator is close by and intimate, like a potter with dirty hands bending over her clay breathing life into her creation.

Then the Lord God formed a human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being.

Here’s a poetic version of the creation story from Psalm 33.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth . . .

He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle and put the deeps in storehouses. Godspoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

Quite a few of the psalmists retold the creation story with extravagant poetry. Listen to Psalm 104.

O Lord my God, you . . . are wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent, you make the clouds your chariot and ride on the wings of the wind . . .

How manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all.

And then Wisdom herself speaks, telling her own creation story. Hear these words spoken from the mouth of Sophia/Wisdom in Proverbs 8.

When God established the heavens, I was there . . . when the skies above were made firm . . . and the sea was assigned its limit . . .

When God marked out the foundations of the earth, I was there, like a master worker; rejoicing always in the inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Then centuries later, when the New Testament theologians wanted to tell the story of Jesus, the one who had completely changed everything, they were challenged to re-read their Hebrew Scriptures and reconsider everything they had known before. The prologue to John’s gospel is bold as he now saw the Genesis creation story through the lens of the Christ. John dared to re-write his Holy Scriptures when he said:

In the beginning—was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The Word was in the beginning with God. And all things came into being through him; without him not one thing came into being.

John 1:1-3

And then the soaring poetry and high Christology of the writer of the letter to the Colossians:

Christ Jesus is the image of God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.  Christ himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17

Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer: One God, forever and ever. Amen.

Living in The Story

So this is a quick summary of Week 2 of Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace. 48 weeks to read the Bible by reading across the Bible.

When I developed Living in The Story, it was important to me to read the Bible in the Big Picture and to see how the Bible has been in conversation with itself over its many centuries. I want to understand how the Torah and the Prophets and the Wisdom writers explored and interpreted their own journeys of faith. How they asked the age-old questions: Who is God? Who are we?

And then I want to see how the New Testament theologians re-read their Holy Scriptures in light of their experience with Jesus, the one they understood to be the promised Christ of God. How did Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul re-think and re-imagine the ancient questions of their faith: What does this mean?

Read the Bible Through in 2022

A few weeks ago, a local pastor and I sat down for coffee and I was pleased to realize these questions are important to him as well. He invited me to come to his congregation to invite them to read the Bible through in 2022. Or maybe just read part of it. But it’s important for all of us Christians to read the Bible for ourselves because this is the book we claim as important—as guide and teacher, as comforter and confronter.

Living in The Story is one way to do that. The reading guide is the core piece of this project—a weekly plan that leads us across the sweep of the biblical story. The reading guide and several essays are available on the LivingInTheStory.com website, open to the public. The just released book Living in The Story offers all those resources expanded and edited into one convenient place.

But the main thing I want people to get from the Bible is The Story, The Cosmic Story of God’s Love and Grace to which the Bible bears witness.

Very Human Stories

I’m quite aware that many of the stories we find in Scripture are not stories of love and grace. There is plenty of violence and cruelty, greed, betrayal, and arrogance. But I think the very fact that these absolutely human stories are included in the church’s Holy Scriptures proves the point that this is not a magic book. Rather it’s a very human book written by humans for humans, a library of books that tell our human story honestly—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

That’s why the witness of love and grace is so remarkable. Within and beyond these limited human words, the church confesses that The Eternal Word is still speaking and Spirit is still inspiring and breathing life. We confess that God is still creating goodness and beauty and order out of every dark and ugly chaos. 

The Bible is not magic, but it is mystery. Much as the church confesses that Jesus the Christ is “truly human and truly divine,” so is the church’s book. Truly human words through which the truly divine Word still speaks. To us. Now.

Bold New World of Faith

I’m ever so grateful for this faith journey that has led me into a bold new world of faith where the journey keeps going “further in and higher up.”

I’m grateful for new eyes to see and new ears to hear with fresh insights the promise of Isaiah’s God: “I Am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is. 43:19)

To hear Paul’s claim that: “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2Cor. 5:17)

To hear the witness of the Revelation that the One seated on the throne is in the process of “making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

This journey into newness, This Story of love and grace keeps unfolding before us and inviting us to come closer, go deeper, soar higher, and live larger.

Like Abraham, we’re invited to walk away from some of the things in our lives that seem settled and safe in order to journey into new awareness, new opportunities, new possibilities.

Like Jacob, we’re invited to wrestle with this God who calls us. To hold on with a stubborn, even stumbling faith in the God who changes us, re-names us, and re-claims us.

Like Mary, we’re invited to once again (and again and again) birth Christ into our own dark and desperate world. Even with our questions that echo Mary’s own questions: Who am I? How can this be? we, too, with Mary, are invited to risk everything and say “Yes. Let it be.”

God is Not Finished

The Story tells us that God is not finished. That Creator keeps creating love and grace in all sorts of unexpected places and unlikely people. The Story gives witness that the One True God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer will continue to form, reform, and transform everything until all God’s creation is brought together in a final conclusion of love and grace.

That’s the Big Story of the Bible I want to help others see and hear and understand. That’s The Story I want to live in.

Amen



A version of this sermon was preached at Calvary United Methodist Church in Paris TX on November 14, 2021.

Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace is available at Wipf and Stock publishers, Amazon, and Kindle.

Abraham

Living in The Story Readings for Week 4

Genesis 12-20

Psalm 23

Psalm 25

Romans 4-8

John 13-17

As You Read the Old Testament

As you read this week, you might consider the fact that Abraham was not a Jew. Is that a startling statement? The people known as “Jews” didn’t come into being until much later than the time of the Patriarchs. Abraham is highly honored within the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam because all three monotheistic religions see him as one who shaped the foundational understanding of these faiths.

Continue reading “Abraham”

Sin

Living in The Story Readings for Week 3

Genesis 3-11

Psalm 5

Psalm 10

Psalm 53

Romans 1–3

John 9-12

Reading the Old Testament

As you read Genesis 3–11, notice how these stories seem to be set out of time. Next week when we start with Abraham and the patriarchs, we will see more geographies and genealogies and we’ll recognize that the telling of those stories is more history-like. But the opening chapters of Genesis tell us primeval mythological stories of origins.

“Mythological” is not a slur. Myth is one way to speak about things that are deeply true even if they are not factual or historical. Consider this description from Britannica:

Myth has existed in every society. Indeed, it would seem to be a basic constituent of human culture . . .

A people’s myths reflect, express, and explore the people’s self-image. The study of myth is thus of central importance in the study both of individual societies and of human culture as a whole.[1]

Myths are the stories we tell that help us understand where we come from and what is the meaning of our existence. All our human religions include this type of narrative as a way to point toward deep truth that is difficult to understand or explain.

Every religion is true one way or another; true, that is, when understood metaphorically. But when religion gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, we get into trouble. (American Christianity has its own special challenges when it comes to getting “stuck” in metaphor.) But when we allow ourselves to get unstuck, to break free from literal, concrete thinking, then we begin to discover truth that is wider, deeper, and higher than simple facts.

Continue reading “Sin”

Creation

Readings for Living in The Story Week 2

Genesis 1 and 2

Psalm 29

Psalm 33

Psalm 104

Psalm 148

Proverbs 8

John 1-8

Colossians

As You Read the Old Testament

As you read about creation this week, watch for the confession of faith that God is Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer of all-that-is. Listen for the confession both of Israel and Christianity that everything is “good.”

As you read Genesis 1 and 2, watch for differences in the two creation stories: for example, see how God’s name is different, the order of creation is different, and theology is different. Some students of the Bible are troubled by these seeming contradictions, but the stories are different by design and purpose. Scholars understand chapter one to have come from the historical tradition of Israel called “Priestly”—these passages refer to God as Elohim. Chapter two seems to come from another tradition we call “Yahwist” since these texts cite God’s name as Yahweh (Yhwh).[1] When we read the stories side by side, not as scientific reports but rather as theological reflections, then we recognize the beauty of the diverse poetic ways that Genesis describes how all the generations of creation were first generated. (Note the many word plays throughout both chapters. This is rich reading!)

During my earliest days of questioning who am I? as a woman believer who wants to take the Bible seriously, I spent months studying these two short chapters in Genesis. That deep dive completely changed my understanding of how men and women relate appropriately to one another in the home, in society, and in the church.

Continue reading “Creation”

We Begin with Faith

Readings for Living in The Story Week 1

Deuteronomy 6-8

Psalm 119

2 Timothy 3

John 5

As You Read in Overview

What is your basic understanding of where the Bible comes from and how it functions? How were you taught or what did you absorb as you were growing up? How have you changed your views over the years? What questions have shifted your thinking? Our first week of reading the Bible with Living in The Story begins by considering the nature of Scripture. Together we will ponder the question, “what kind of book is the Bible?” as we read this week.

A popular aphorism says: “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” I absolutely believe this. We all interpret. We all interpret everything. There is no such thing as un-interpreted awareness. We all have some lens or another through which we see the world. We all have a framework with which we make meaning. This was as true of the biblical writers as it is true of us Bible readers.

The authors of these ancient texts began with faith. They started with a confidence that God was somehow in their story and as they collected and recollected the stories of their life together as God’s people, they sought to understand its meaning. The biblical writers are not, for the most part, apologists, arguing for their faith in a way that was designed to convince nonbelievers. Rather their writings were intended to confess and explore their faith within a community of faith.

Continue reading “We Begin with Faith”

Introduction to Living in The Story

I believe the one true loving God faithfully shepherds and sustains all-that-is from its good creation to its ultimate culmination in wholeness and shalom. The Story of this Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer God is written in stars and in DNA so that each of us—with our own individual stories—shares in that overarching story of love and grace. The Bible offers the witness of a particular people to that cosmic story. I believe that—within and beyond the ancient words of the Bible—the Eternal Word is still speaking.

Living in The Story provides a unique opportunity to read the Bible through fresh eyes. Each week, the reading guide leads us across the sweep of The Story of God’s faithfulness for God’s people across the ages. Each week, we will read from the Old Testament and from the Psalms alongside passages from the New Testament and the Gospels. These readings follow some of the great themes of the Bible.

Continue reading “Introduction to Living in The Story”

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

In the beginning … God said: Let there be light. And there was light. (Genesis 1).

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The heavens are telling the glory of God; the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.

There is no speech; there are no words; and yet – their voice goes out throughout the earth, their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19).

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth … Where were you when all the morning stars sang together … ?!?!? (Job 38).

Sometimes the poetry of Scripture gives me chill bumps.

There is such beauty and mystery in these words; they draw me in and fill me up.

  • I smile.
  • I wonder.
  • I weep.
  • I furrow my brow and scratch my head.
  • I argue.
  • I wait.
  • I watch.
  • I listen.
Scripture is a vast ocean.

We can sail the seas of Scripture and rock gently in its waves one day and then we are holding on for dear life the next. Sometimes its waters are crystal clear and we see into depths we never imagined. Sometimes its ocean roils red or stretches out before us in inimaginable greens and blues and greys.

canto_snorkel2

Some people don their snorkel gear and plunge in deeper; there are wonders to be found beneath the surface. Some people strap on air tanks and dive to the depths; there is always more to learn.

If you have been reading through the Bible with Living in The Story over the past 48 weeks, maybe you have experienced Scripture with fresh eyes. I hope you learned something new through your reading. I hope you caught a glimpse of its inexhaustible mysteries.

Throughout this project, I have tried to blog about these Scriptures in a way that helps us make more sense of this strange and wonderful book. Just maybe – through this experience – all of us are listening and learning and growing.

When I was preaching regularly on Sundays, we would hear the words of Scripture read to us and then the reader would say: the “Word of the Lord.” We dutifully responded: “Thanks be to God.”

But what are we saying with those words? What does it mean to say that this Bible is the “Word of the Lord?”

Some people believe it is the literal word of God: each and every word dictated and inspired by the Spirit so that it contains no errors or contradictions.

Some people believe it is a collection of stories and teachings; “just” stories (they say) but still within which some wisdom may be found.

Some think of it as a book of rules or as a manual for living.

Some see it as a history book. Some as a chronicle of predictions for our own day.

Some understand it to be an ancient story of another people in another time; interesting for its historical and archeological insights but not relevant for a modern world.

God is still speaking

When I was preaching regularly, I would stand in the pulpit and pray the same prayer Sunday after Sunday: “You have spoken to us once and for all in Jesus Christ and you continue to speak in these Holy Scriptures. Speak to us now, we pray….”

When I would read the text for the sermon, I would begin by saying: “Listen now for the Word of the Lord in this the Holy Scripture.”

So you might ask what I mean when say this Bible is the “Word of the Lord?” You might ask how I describe what it is I believe about this book we call the Holy Bible. Why do I call it “holy?”

The Scriptures are witness.

Followers of the one true God, over several millennia, have given witness to their experience with God. The Bible is the record of that evolving understanding and testimony to the variety of ways God’s people have found meaning and tried to live their lives with faith in the One Who Is beyond our knowing, the One beyond our grasping; the One Who Is.

Sometimes the stories record great unfaithfulness. (Yes, that is our sad human story.) Sometimes the stories show misunderstandings and sometimes great wisdom. (Yes, we humans are both very foolish and very wise.) Sometimes the stories tell of remarkable courage and goodness. (Yes, humans have a way of rising above adversity and responding to the challenges of life with tenacious faith and stubborn hope.)

Over the years, these writings have offered faithful witness to a people’s relationship with the God of their understanding. And so – over the years – these writings have become our sacred Scriptures: the “Holy” Bible giving witness to the holiness of living in the presence of a holy God.

boy_reading_bible-1

The Old Testament together with the New Testament are the Scriptures of the Christian Church.

In order for the Church to be “Christian,” it must engage the Christian Scriptures.

By “engage” I mean – read, study, learn from, argue with, protest about, be shaped by, be challenged with, be spoken to and changed by this Holy Bible.

But the Scriptures are not only the witness of human beings.

Somehow, also, in some mystery, again and again, the God of all Creation speaks in and through these human words. “Speak to us now we pray, that we may know you…” Don’t ask me to explain that. Even so …

I have come to trust it without being able to explain it.

Trust it because we see evidence of God’s presence in our lives and in the world, and that evidence supports our confidence.

Trust it because we see how the Word of the Lord has created a people who are bound together over countless ages; who are bound together despite the differences that seek to divide us.

Trust it because a deep honest logic can see something deeply true about the witness of Scripture. But also because (as the mystics teach us) people of faith are able to see with our “third eye” – beyond logic. We can perceive God’s ever new presence, God’s call to new beginnings and God’s will and way for us today – even through such ancient, culture-bound, human words of Scripture.

The Word of the Lord

Evidence, experience, tradition, reason, community, intuitive knowing – they all come together to allow us to trust that somehow, in some mystery, again and again, the God of all Creation speaks in and through these human words.

So when I say: “the Word of the Lord; thanks be to God,” I am giving witness that I believe God is still speaking. I am giving witness that I believe the witness of Scripture can speak authentically in every age about who we are as humans. And about who God is as God.

But words are limited. And limiting.

Of course that “speaking” is not exhaustive. Human words are so limited and the words of the Bible are no exception.

There are just so many ways words can represent reality and all ways are always inadequate.

Human words are not things; words are symbols, pointers. They point beyond themselves to something else. The words of the Old Testament point to, direct us toward something in their future, while the words of the New Testament point to, direct us toward something in their past.

And what is this “thing” the words of Scripture point to? What is the point of this book we call the Bible?

In the beginning was the Word … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … and this Word is light and life to all people.

John 1

Christ: the crux, the hinge of history.

THE Word of the Lord! Thanks be to God!

Whether someone knows that or not, claims that or not, I believe God has spoken once and for all in Jesus Christ. And in Jesus Christ, God has spoken love and grace and welcome for ALL.

In this divine self-revelation, God has been unveiled, has emerged from the fire and cloud, has stepped out of the whirlwind, and said: “I Am.”

I Am …

  • in a manger in a cattle stall;
  • with a calloused hand and a carpenter’s saw;
  • reaching out to the lost and forsaken;
  • embracing the children;
  • feeding the hungry;
  • healing the sick;
  • washing dirty feet;
  • hanging on a cross.
383_handCrucifixionGrunewaldC1515CROP

This is Who I Am.

This is what love looks like and sounds like and acts like.

God’s Word made flesh.

And so now – here with this final Living in The Story blog –

I pray that we may have the power to comprehend…the breadth and length and height and depth of love, and to know the love of Christ that is beyond knowing…

Ephesians 3

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.


Living in The Story readings for Week 48 (our FINAL week! You DID it!)

Habakkuk

Zephaniah

Haggai

Zechariah

Malachi

Psalm 22

Psalm 102

Mark 15-16

Ephesians


“Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh, 1889.

Hand Image: Detail from “Crucifixion,” Matthias Grunewald, c 1515.