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Stories That Feel Foreign

Stories That Feel Foreign

When I returned to Christ Community after pursuing additional education, I was a year removed from even thinking about preaching. Let me just state the obvious: research papers and sermons are very different kinds of projects. Pretty quickly the reality hit that I better get back on my sermon-writing game. 

We were in a sermon series studying 1 & 2 Samuel; essentially, we were following the life of David. When I read my Bible for the purposes of preaching on a passage, there’s a very particular type of intentionality that exists for me. Sometimes it even looks like desperation: “God, I have T-minus (however many hours) to have a finished sermon…please show me the way to get there.” 

So as I stepped back into my sermon preparation habits, I flipped open my Bible and turned to 1 Samuel. I began to read. Suddenly, I felt confronted by a writing style, turns of phrases, names, and cities that seemed to represent in small ways a larger reality that lay behind these stories. Here is that reality: these stories are foreign. Even though I’ve been trained in biblical studies and I’ve read them many times before, they were difficult to understand. Not only did I have the desperation of needing a sermon to preach, but first I needed a fresh understanding of all these characters, places, story arcs, and all the rest.

It’s true that even for the seminary-trained, the Bible can be hard to parse; its stories can be challenging to navigate. I confess that when I approach my Bible, whether in devotional time or sermon preparation, many times I’m hoping for it (and God, for that matter) to immediately dispense grand nuggets of truth and wisdom into my brain. But understanding the Bible is not that easy, and reading 1 & 2 Samuel reminded me of that reality. 

I was confronted again by the fact that grasping the meaning and translating the Bible for our time, is not always clear cut. That process is not a type of slot machine that if we happen upon it at the right time, God will reward us with something holy or profound. To get at what God is saying, to get to the good stuff, we have to submit ourselves to the stories. We have to really surrender to them. In fact, we have to be immersed in them so we find ourselves in them.  

 

Closer to Home Than We Think

Here’s what happened to me in the weeks leading up to that first sermon for Christ Community (that sermon, by the way, was on David and Bathsheba. Yep.). As I kept reading and staring into these stories, I began to live into them a bit. What I mean is that at some point I realized I had passed a threshold: these historical accounts with strange names, strange places, and different cultures and customs were no longer stories I felt the urgency to extract some quick meaning from. No, actually, these stories were way more than that…they were my story. Our story. 

No longer was I just reading these stories…these stories were reading me. More importantly, I realized they were reading us—God’s people. Suddenly, I wasn’t just peering through a lens to hear about a distant story in a faraway place with confusing names and places. Instead, I was reading stories that I found myself in… stories that the people of God find themselves in. In fact, they are stories the people of God need to hear because God himself left them to us. He gave these ancient stories as a way of revealing himself to us and us revealing ourselves to him and each other. 

 

1 & 2 Kings Aren’t Just Stories

For our sermon series this summer we are heading back to the Old Testament. Deep in the heart of the Old Testament lie the books of 1 & 2 Kings. And these two books are, in fact, the ones right after 1 & 2 Samuel. 

In the Hebrew Bible, 1 & 2 Kings were originally just one book called Kings.Together, these books tell the story of all the kings that came after King David. Over the course of some four centuries and forty rulers, not one of these kings lived up to the promised King that God’s people needed. You’d think that God’s people would have gotten the hint that what they needed was something different, perhaps someone different…a true and better King: the Messiah. But they didn’t realize that…yet. So 1 & 2 Kings is one story of many stories: lots of kings and two kingdoms, rivalry and competition, good and bad leadership, and in the end, God’s people are left crying out more than ever before for their promised King.

We are returning to stories with foreign names: Asa, Ahab, Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Joash…just to name a few. These stories are from a time, era, age, and point of view that is so different that you might not completely understand the context. Ultimately, that doesn’t matter. Why? Because our job is just to stick with the stories. To stick with them long enough that we pass the threshold, where we are no longer reading a story but we find ourselves in the story. 

We do all of this because 1 & 2 Kings doesn’t just tell random stories of kings of old. They are stories that show how God remains faithful to those who aren’t faithful to him. They are stories that reveal the type of leaders God wants and is actually after. They are stories of God’s people being drawn back to the God who has adopted them and who loves them. These are the stories God left to us in his word because these are the ones we need to hear. This is God revealing himself to us so we can learn to reveal ourselves to him and each other, becoming the people he can use for his story told through our lives. 

We live on the side of history where we know that the King did come, and his name is Jesus. Even still, none of our kings and rulers have lived up to King Jesus since then. He is the King our world has always needed and needs now. It’s our hope that this series gives you reason to put your hope in the true and better King. Come find yourself in the stories.