• Steven Marsh

Participating in God’s Story-God’s Story, Your Story, and Our Story: a Reflection on Jer

You have often heard me say that the word “what” is more helpful than the word “why.” In that the word “why” can lead one into a circuitous spiral of endless unknowns and increasing frustration. The word “what,” however, leads one to decision, action, and accountability. But the word “why” is important in this way: if you do not know the “why” behind the “what,” the “what” can be pointless and meaningless. Check out this brief three-minute video by comedian Michael Jr., “Know Your Why.”

Michael Horton, author of Core Christianity, writes this about “why” and “what”: “You brought your three-year old into the emergency room for what you thought was a common cold. Within an hour you learn that it’s a fatal disease. Your thought is to pray. Why? Because you believe in a God who intervenes in this world. Your act of prayer assumes you believe that the world—including you and your daughter—wasn’t self-created and that it isn’t self-sustaining…Your prayer reveals that you have a specific worldview…and that worldview arises from a particular story—the story of God as told in the Bible…But you have a neighbor who had a similar experience. He doesn’t pray because he doesn’t believe in God. Nature plus chance—for him, that’s all there is.”[1]

Worldviews, one’s beliefs and values; one’s story of participation, either assist us in the discovery of the “why” or not. The one neighbor finds meaning in devastating news whereas the other doesn’t. “Why” either assists us in being found or moving into a deeper space of “lostness.” According to Jill Duffield, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, Japanese families continue to look for loved ones lost in the tsunami five years ago; a GoFundMe site has raised $130,000 to assist the search for two missing American hikers in Pakistan; the binders that hold all the notes and pictures of those lost in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, are pulled out of storage in a memorial Mass every September 11 in the chapel at St. Vincent Hospital in New York City.[2] God’s preferential option is for the lost.

The text in Luke 15 notes that Jesus, the Pharisees, and the scribes shared a common belief that tax collectors and sinners are lost. The two parables point out that Jesus, unlike the Pharisees and scribes, believed that one should have compassion for the lost.[3] The text in Luke gives us two examples of the lost, the lost being found, and the resulting celebration. First, in Luke 15:3-7, one sheep goes astray and the shepherd is confronted with the choice, to leave the ninety-nine and go and find the one or to remain with the ninety-nine and leave the one behind. The shepherd opts to go and find the one lost sheep. The shepherd returns with the one and gathers all the other shepherds around and his friends and says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” In Luke 15:8-10, the woman in this parable has ten silver coins and loses one of them. The one coin was most likely a drachma, which was worth the price of a sheep or one-fifth the price of an ox. In this instance, the woman takes a lamp and searches diligently for the lost coin. She did whatever was necessary to find the coin. And after finding the coin, she like the shepherd, called together her friends and neighbors and said, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin I had lost.”

The people who gather around Jesus are “the people who do not really belong anywhere because they have lived so much of life on so many fringes. They are the people no one else wants to hang around with, for fear that the reprehensible reputations of the one would implicate the good reputations of the other.”[4] Jesus redefined the meaning of community simply by those with whom he associated. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day would rejoice when those they deemed worthy converted to Judaism. To the contrary, Jesus states that only those who know they aren’t worthy and have found their worth in God can rejoice. Paul states Jesus’ point this way in 1 Timothy 1:12, “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service.” Jesus asserts that those who know the truth about being loved by God should always be looking for the lost. The lost are all who do not know and experience God’s unconditional love, personally, and in all of life’s circumstances, good and bad. Who are the lost? Anyone who doesn’t know Jesus as Savior and Lord; anyone who is hurting; and anyone pushed to the fringes of existence.

When have you lost something? What lengths did you go to find it? Can you identify the “why” that informed the “what” of your steps? Now, how much more would you look for a person?[5] Jesus loves you and me so much. And he is asking us to begin seeking out the lost. “Whether one will join the celebration is all-important, because it reveals whether one’s relationships are based on merit or on mercy.”[6] When you know your “why,” you have options on what your “what” will be. With the psalmist and the prophet Jeremiah, let us not be “Fools” by ignoring the “lost” and denying our own forms of “lostness.” Participating in God’s story is all about the “why.” God is passionate about loving people so the “whats” of worshiping, learning, fellowshipping, serving, and giving become meaningful “whats.”

God is passionate about loving people. So let’s get at that “why” by participating in God’s story being told through the “whats” of worshiping, learning, fellowshipping, serving, and giving. We participate in God’s story by loving God and loving others.

[1]Michael Horton, Core Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2016), 13.

[2]Adapted from The Presbyterian Outlook Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) email, September 5, 2016.

[3]Adapted from Charles B. Cousar in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 73.

[4]Helen Montgomery Debevoise in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, 68.

[5]Some questions adapted from The Presbyterian Outlook RCL Lectionary email, September 5, 2016.

[6]R. Alan Culpepper, “Luke,” in Leander Keck, ed., The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 9:298.

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