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Living in The Story - Pondering Connections within God's Story and the Biblical Story and Our Various Human Stories

Week 48: Final Reflections

If you have been reading through the Bible with Living in The Story over the past forty-eight 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 write about these Scriptures in a way that helps us make a bit more sense of this strange and wonderful book. Just maybe, through this experience, all of us are learning to listen and to see more clearly. Maybe all of us are doing a better job of asking-seeking-knocking.

Before I retired, when I was preaching regularly on Sundays . . . when I would stand in the pulpit, I would 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 what it is I believe about this book we call the Holy Bible. Why do I call it “holy?” . . . .

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Week 47: The Minor Prophets

The years of Babylonian Exile radically altered Israel and realigned their orientation to their God in profound ways. This shift in orientation after the Exile redefined the importance of the land, fostered a renewed reverence for Jerusalem and the Temple, and reinforced their commitment to pass on their faith to coming generations.

This realignment reminded the people of the fragile blessing of posterity—too many of their children had been lost in the war and the deportation—but gave them opportunity to cultivate faith within the next generations in order to ensure the nation’s future . . .

Our Jewish siblings have long been committed to tikkun olam—”repair of the world.” Tikkun olam is a value of Judaism that calls for God’s faithful people to be intentional about performing caring acts that can help mend the frayed fabric of our shared life: acts of personal charity, acts of social advocacy for the homeless, hurting, and hungry, as well as actions that protect and preserve our environment.

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Week 46: Nehemiah

The key event of the Ezra-Nehemiah story is found in Nehemiah 8 where it describes reading the Law to the assembled community. The priest, Ezra, read

from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.


The readings of “the law” came from the Pentateuch, but we can only guess which passages Ezra might have chosen to read to the people. As Ezra read for these long hours, the text says the priests and the Levites

helped the people to understand the law . . . So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.


We Living in The Story readers know something about this, don’t we? All us seekers need guidance as we try to make sense, as we ask our ongoing question: What does this mean? Imagine how these questions must have overwhelmed this people as they listened to the words of their Scripture, maybe for the very first time, “for all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.”

 Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe . . . said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.”

Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

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Week 45: Ezra

Ezra and Nehemiah are short books, around a dozen chapters each. Most likely they were originally one literary work so this may explain why some of the chronology confuses scholars who try to reconstruct the Ezra-Nehemiah story within history. Dating events in post-exilic Israel begins with dating the kings of the east alluded to these stories . . .

Ezra was a scribe, trained in the meticulous production and reproduction of manuscripts, thus scribes were widely respected as learned and knowledgeable people. Ezra’s account of the restoration history begins with King Cyrus, the Persian monarch who had conquered Babylon’s empire. In the language of faith (not simple history), Ezra asserts that the Lord God put it into the king’s heart to restore the Jewish people to their homeland. So around the middle of the sixth century BCE, Cyrus returned treasures that had been plundered from Solomon’s Temple, outfitted the travelers with supplies, and encouraged Persian citizens to contribute financially to their quest as the first wave of exiles returned to their homeland . . .

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Week 44: Daniel

The first six chapters of the book of Daniel contain a collection of short stories from the Hebrew exile, stories about Daniel and his friends, Azariah, Mishael, and Hananiah. (Those of us who heard these stories growing up may be more familiar with the names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, slave names given to them in Babylon.)

These several short stories function much like novellas, as we saw in the books of Esther and Jonah. Try to make time this week to read the entire book of Daniel in one sitting.

I love all these Daniel stories but especially the one about the fiery furnace.

Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were present at the dedication of a gigantic statue of King Nebuchadnezzar . . . when all the people were commanded to bow down and worship the image. But, of course—good Jews that they were, Hebrews who had learned their lesson and had become thoroughly monotheistic—these three worshipers of the one true God would not bow down to another.

Fiery furnaces or lions’ dens—people of faith don’t go through hard times because we haven’t been good enough or faithful enough.


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Week 43: Ezekiel

The hand of the Lord came upon me.

He brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

And God said to me, ‘Mortal/son of man, can these bones live?’

Ezekiel 37:1–3
Visions, Parables, and Poetry

As you read Revelation alongside Ezekiel, ponder the sturdy thread that connects these two prophets across the centuries . . .

Centuries after the devastation of Ezekiel’s beloved community, Mark’s Christians endured the assault of Rome within that same land. Once again, the city was leveled and the Temple destroyed. Jesus’ followers in the troubled days of Mark and John of Patmos remembered the promise that the Risen Christ would come again (now would be a good time, they must have been thinking). But, no, difficult times dragged on and on . . .

Surely the words and the experiences of their ancestor Ezekiel in exile helped early Christians hold on to hope.

The eschatological hope of this apocalyptic poetry has echoed again and again throughout human history. African American slaves who tilled the sandy soil of the South often sang spirituals drawn from images of the prophets: “Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again! Now hear the word of the Lord!”

Can you imagine how dry the bones of these weary people must have felt? How hopeless their lives must have seemed?

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Week 42: Hope

Hope is deeply real to people of the Christ—as real as it gets. Even when our observable reality appears to be hopeless, hope taps into the unseen reality of God’s presence in the world, God’s movement in our lives. We can look honestly at the facts of our situation and say and yet. We can look clear-eyed at all the evidence and say nevertheless. We trust that something else is true besides just our circumstances; something else is real besides the obvious. We can see the bigger picture of what God has done and what God is doing. Christian hope is grounded in the reality of the present and is oriented to the possibilities of the future.

People of faith always have been oriented towards the future. Faith means moving toward something we cannot see; stepping out on a path when we don’t know where it will lead; heading in a direction that may seem completely irrational and unreasonable. People who trust can live with this kind of confidence because people of faith are deeply and irrevocably people of hope.

And where does such hope come from? Andy Lester says, “The foundation of hope in the Judeo-Christian tradition is rooted in the character of God, the Creator and Redeemer of the universe.”[1] Because of hope, we believe that the God who creates, redeems, and sustains is primarily characterized by love: agape. Since both creation and incarnation reveal the nature of this self-giving love, we trust that Jesus Christ is the visible expression of God’s faithfulness. This confidence gives us reason to hope for the not-yet-ness of our future.

When we look toward our future, when our future stories are shaped and fashioned with faith, hope, and love then—no matter what comes our way—we can live our lives with deep, unshakable peace. We can see the movement of God in our lives and in the world, and we can confidently stand on the promises of a future with hope . . .

There is much to be discouraged about in our current world. If (as Dr. Lester says) we begin by naming our reality then we have to admit things quite often are quite depressing. It is all too easy to despair, to feel hopeless and powerless in these troubled days. Lester encourages us to name all that, but not to stay there. Rather we must move on to imagine future possibilities; we must plant ourselves in hope’s rich soil. We best do this in community because we are a people who hold on to each other as we hold on to hope. Together, we become a people who hope for each other as we imagine future possibilities.

Impossible possibilities is a constant theme throughout The Story. When we are grounded in faith and hope; when we are shaped by God’s character of self-giving love; when we can glimpse God’s bigger picture; when we are living in God’s Story—then we can imagine all sorts of impossible possibilities and we can remind each other to hold on to the one who holds on to us.

[1] Andrew Lester, Hope, 65.

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

Living in The Story readings for Week 42

Jeremiah 40-52

Psalm 124

Psalm 125

Psalm 127

Revelation 12-15

Mark 4-5

Week 41: Jeremiah

Jeremiah, like Isaiah, is a massive literary work. Five of these lengthy books are referred to as the Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The Minor Prophets are shorter, though nonetheless significant. The prophetic tradition of Israel was a current word to the people of God in a time of apostasy or distress—both a word of warning and a word of hope. Note, though, how often Jeremiah recites the tragic words “but they would not listen.” Hearing, listening, and obeying are constant themes throughout Scripture, a theme continued by Jesus. “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!” (Mark 4:9) . . .

When Israel broke the divine covenant, Jeremiah proclaimed the Lord’s righteous anger. But since this is God’s covenant sustained by God’s authority, “the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah” proclaimed a word of hope as often as it threatened a word of judgment.

Justice is God’s foundation but compassion is God’s essence.

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Week 40: The Psalms

Much as there are five books of Torah, five books of Wisdom, and five books of the Major Prophets, the 150 psalms of the Book of Psalms also are organized into five books. The prayers and hymns of Israel that sang their faith were gathered, edited, and organized into the Psalter that Jews and Christians still use to this day. The arrangement of hymns seems to speak to the cycles of our lives with the poetry of our faith.

One thing we all know about life: it is messy. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed with goodness and beauty and our hearts overflow with gratitude and thanksgiving. Other times, when we are overwhelmed with sorrow, pain, and injustice, our broken hearts cry out in complaint and lament.

Such was the experience of Israel as well. From the Golden Age of David and Solomon, into the long painful spiral of unfaithfulness, through the desolation of the Exile, then back to the devastated land and the hard work of rebuilding, the Psalms cycled through the highs and lows of the life of Israel.

In this process, the poems express the wide range of emotions within the human experience, not only in Israel’s story but in all our stories. What I think is particularly wonderful is that even the bitterest cry of a broken heart almost always cycles back around to praise . . .

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Week 39: Prophets’ Imagination

Unpacking the prophets’ imagination is especially helpful as our Living in The Story readings lead us through both the works of the OT prophets and the Revelation of John in our NT. Prophets persistently challenge status quo, counter conventional wisdom, and cast alternative visions.

Walter Brueggemann’s classic book, The Prophetic Imagination, reminds readers that Torah needs the prophets to name both the human brokenness and the divine remedies. Every society in every age needs prophets who will speak truth to all us stumbling ordinary people as well as to speak truth to power.

The great Jewish scholar Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described the nature and function of the prophets [as similar to the poets’ imagination]. Kelly Brown Douglas explored the prophetic work of Martin Luther King Jr. and especially noted the vision Dr. King cast in his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech as a moral imagination.

The imaginative ministry of prophets continues to challenge inequities and injustices that harm and hold back God’s beloved. Prophetic, poetic, moral imagination: all these aspects describe how prophetic work imagines, envisions, and dreams alternative realities that allow for human flourishing . . .

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