Introducing the Six Act Story of the Bible

Sermon Series: The Drama of Scripture

By: Donnell Wyche – March 10, 2019

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. Together we’ve been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus. As we become the people of God and learn how to neighbor, we choose to reflect God’s love in our gratitude, in our joy, and in our generosity as we navigate the complexity of our daily lives. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.

Today is also the first Sunday of Lent, so I want to give you some tools for our Lenten journey before we get started with the new sermon series.

Making Our Way During Lent
In the ancient church, Lent primarily served not only as a period of deep reflection of the sins that break community (adultery, lying, stealing) and a time for public penitence for sinners, but also served to prepare recent converts to Christianity for baptism. We will join this tradition by hosting baptisms on Easter Sunday here at the Vineyard. If you are here and would like to get baptized, you can sign-up in the lobby. Pastor Sam will get in touch with you.

Our Lenten journey together will take 40 days. Chronologically, Lent starts 46 days before Easter. However, most faith traditions exclude Sundays. That’s how we get to 40 days.

Today we will launch our Lenten sermon series, The Drama of Scripture – A Six-Act Story. I’m excited to partner with the rest of the preaching team for this series and to hear their voices during Lent as we make our way to Easter.

We have prepared some material for our Lenten journey together, so I want to walk you through it now.

Your Bold Request
Identify one thing you’d like to ask God to do for you and then ask daily. Isaiah 62 instructs us to “remind” the Lord, and to “give him no rest” as we bring our longings to him. Jesus tells us the story of a persistent widow who receives justice from an unjust judge simply because she will not stop asking. And Jesus says to us, “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?” So we are inviting each of us to make one bold, deeply person request this Lent. Take some time to prayerfully choose a deep need, a powerful longing that has been gripping your heart.

The Answered Prayer Wall
If you receive an answer to prayer during Lent, we invite you to write it on a sticky-note and stick it on the ANSWERED PRAYER WALL in the sanctuary. This is both a tangible reminder to us all that our prayers are heard by a powerful and active God and an act of worshipful gratitude. We can watch together as we visibly see the Holy Spirit at work in our midst.

Identify and Pray for Your Six
Prayerfully consider selecting six people in your world to pray for each day through the six weeks of Lent.  I suggest  people just beyond your primary relationship circle. Maybe not family and friends, but people around you—neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances— whoever you bump up against regularly in your day to day life. Especially those who might benefit from more experience of the Good God. It can be helpful to reflect on the ways you have been impacted by the prayers of others for your life.

Bless On of Your Six
This moves us to our next Lenten practice. Consider some extravagant care for one of your six. We not only wish to pray for God’s love and goodness in their lives, but we also want to become for those around us a reflection of the good God we serve. Ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to highlight a way that you can tangibly bless one of the people you’re praying for, a way that you can become for them a tangible encounter with God’s goodness. Now do it. Really. Even if it feels awkward or challenging. Ask God not only to meet the other person with love and care, but also to transform your heart through the act of sacrificial giving. To deepen this practice, consider engaging this act privately. When you give, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3). Intentionally avoid recognition or praise for your act. Pray through how it feels to do this.

Experiment with a daily devotional
We have a daily devotional to experiment available on the church website as a PDF that you can download and print out yourself and experiment with.

The Bible as a Grand Transformative Story
As we make our way forward trying to make sense of our lives, the world we inhabit, and the decisions that we make about how we should be and live within the world, we do this embedded within some story. Whether it’s the story of enlightenment, modernity, existentialism, postmodernity, or American exceptionalism, we find our lives, purpose and meaning anchored within some story. In fact, among some theologians, philosophers and biblical scholars, there is growing recognition that “a story is the best way of talking about the way the world actually is.” It’s the recognition that in order to answer, “Who am I? or What am I to do?” I must first ask, “What story do I find myself a part of?”

I believe the Bible tells the story of a good and just God who is concerned with creation and is in love with creation. The Bible tells of a God who has teamed with creation in bringing about liberation, justice, and the restoration of all things. The Bible tells of a God who has a solution to the problem of evil. The Bible tells of a God who cares very much about our present reality and our present selves, and it tells of a God “who has made us and the world for a purpose.”

The climax of the story is when God becomes a human and enters time, space and history. The story does not end with all the Christians gathered together ready to leave for heaven. No, it ends with the City of God, (the New Jerusalem) coming down from heaven to earth, resulting in God’s new creation, new heavens and new earth, “in which everything that has been true, lovely, and of good report will be vindicated, enhanced, and liberated from all pain and sorrow.”

Entering the Biblical Story
We know that it is one thing to confess the Bible to be the Word of God, but often quite another thing to know how to read the Bible in a way that lets it influence the whole of our lives. There can easily be a gap between what we say we believe and how we live. If God has deliberately given us the Bible in the shape of a story, then only as we attend to it as story and actively appropriate it as our story will we feel the full impact of its authority and illumination in our lives. There is a lot at stake in how we understand the Bible could be speaking to us. If we view it as a single unfolding story, it can be tremendously exciting. Such a story invites us—compels us even—to get involved.

The scripture came alive for me again when I reengaged the scripture not as basic instructions before leaving earth, but as the grand story through which I could understand myself, my life, my vocation, and my purpose.

The Bible stop being about what I couldn’t or shouldn’t do and became this manifesto for who I was, in whose image I made, and this understanding started to transform the way I saw myself which ultimately started to affected the way I lived. It was a moment like what Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 5 after healing someone on the Sabbath, which was prohibited.

39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39–40)

It wasn’t so much that I had refused to surrender and come to Jesus as much as it was I didn’t really understand the point. My authoritative interpreters originally told me that the point of the story was for me to get into heaven, but they never told me that Jesus wanted to do something better, something more radical, which was to get heaven into me. Jesus was inviting me to live within in his kingdom with him as King bringing the reality of God’s rule and reign into my everyday.

It’s like what happened to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism who came to America for just a couple of years, felt his heart “strangely warmed” after hearing someone read from Martin Luther’s Commentary on Romans.

As he engaged scripture: the more he studied, the more convinced he became about the immorality of slavery and the immorality of those who engaged it. He was being informed by scripture’s call for justice, the idea that God through the story found in the Bible, has always advocated for those at the margins. Wesley wouldn’t have to travel far in scripture to discover God’s heart for justice.

So now, O Israel, what does God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in God’s ways, to love God, to serve your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments. For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphans and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:12)

Despite the legality of slavery, Wesley started to wonder about the morality of holding another person made in the image of God as property.

And the same happened to a contemporary of Wesley, William Wilberforce, who after converting to Christianity came to the conclusion that he could no longer serve the British Empire while slavery was in effect. He felt that he had been called by God to end the immoral slave trade. Wilberforce was ready to quit his post as an MP, but it was John Wesley who encouraged Wilberforce to use his role in the British parliament to help end slavery. All of this happened because both men realized that it was incompatible to hold another human being in bondage and claim at the same time to serve the creator. This happened as both Wilberforce and Wesley allowed the Word of God to shape and inform the story they were living and the story they were telling themselves.

Let me offer a way forward. What if we approach the Bible as a story? As a grand meta-narrative giving meaning and purpose to everything? There is a story behind and giving life to all the stories of the Bible—behind all the laws, narratives, poems, and prophecies lies a Big Over-Arching story that holds them all together. The grand narrative of the Bible is like any other story. It has a plot, characters, a setting, a mood and tempo. There’s intrigue, family conflict, humor, sex, and tragedy.

The Bible in Six Acts

Act 1: Creation
The opening act of this story has a single character, God. He is the first to appear, and he is the first to speak. It all originates with Him and emanates from Him. He creates everything and calls it good. God created us in his image so that we would be one with him and others and to explore and care for the riches of his creation. This is the opening act of this drama. God’s act of creation is described in two distinct but related narratives (Genesis 1-2). As we embrace these creation narratives, the point isn’t to provide the exact details of how God made the world, but to help us understand our place within it.

Act 2: Exile (The Rebellion)
The second act consists of the humanity refusing to live under the Creator’s command. This is the start of the rebellion. The humanity takes what doesn’t belong to them and seeks life apart from the Creator. The results of this rebellion are disastrous. The creation is corrupted and sin and death enter the world. The exile begins.

Act 3: Redemption Pursued (Israel)
In the third act, God creates a covenant with his creation to solve the problems created in the second act. His intention is to redeem all of creation from sin, death, and evil. He chooses from among the people of the earth, Abraham, and establishes a relationship with him (and his descendants) to show the world what humanity in relationship with God looks like. However, the chosen people hide the light that is supposed to shine in the darkness and require rescuing themselves. This is the story of Israel starting in Genesis 12 until Malachi 4. This act ends with people eagerly awaiting a savior, a king or a priest who can once and for all end their exile. 

Act 4: Redemption Accomplished (Jesus)
In Act four, God steps into history, time and space and is determined to do what Israel could not and would not do, reveal the humanity dependent on God. God sends Jesus to fulfill Israel’s calling as a faithful servant revealing God’s light to the world. Jesus takes up Israel’s vocation and does more: he defeats the powers. On the cross he cancels sin and defeats evil. “No greater love than a man lay down his life for another.” Jesus removes the sting of death by rising from the dead inaugurating the new creation.

Act 5: New Creation
Act five starts with Jesus pouring out His Spirit on his disciples and sending them into the world to usher in the new creation. This act is about the church, including you and me. Act five establishes the church whose mission is to the take the good news that Jesus is alive into all the world. This is where we, the church, enter the story. We are his Ambassadors to the world. This act is ongoing.

Act 6: Return of the King
“We live in the time of invitation, when the call of the gospel goes out to every creature. Jesus will return to earth and the reign of God will become an uncontested reality throughout the world. God’s presence will be fully and openly with us once again, as it was at the beginning of the drama. God’s plan of redemption will reach its goal.”

“When the day of resurrection arrives, God’s people will find that their hope has been realized. Empowered by the Spirit, and unhindered by sin and death, we will pursue our original vocation as a renewed humanity. We will be culture makers, having been remade in the image of Christ, we will share in bringing God’s wise, caring rule to the earth.”

This the story that binds the Bible together, and the parts and pieces of the Bible must be interpreted and seen through this framework, this arc. The story of the Bible points towards Galatians 3:28 when God again restores us to a single family united, secured, redeemed and free.

Prayer Senses

  • Healing for a persistent cough; knee pain. 
  • The Lord is inviting you to relinquish stress & resentment. 
  • The Lord wants to speak to defiant hearts. “Take a step forward and you’ll hear me better.”
  • The Lord is offering courage in the midst of trials and hard times. 
  • Wisdom and discernment for new job opportunities.
  • “This is a season of transition. Trust God for next steps. the Lord won’t let you down.”
  • Someone is still having night terrors. The Lord invites you to ask where they are coming from. The Lord invites you to partner to increase your faith and to develop greater intimacy.
  • Clarity for sibling relationships. 
  • The Lord wants to minister healing to someone still recovering and dealing with the effects of a breakup. Invite the Lord into the pain.
  • Help for making tough decisions.
  • The Lord wants to deal with the roots of anxiety and timidity. Don’t be afraid to step out and do what the Lord is leading you to do. Perfectionism isn’t required. The Lord is giving you grace, forgiveness, and support.