“The God Story: Suspension of Disbelief”                              March 16, 2014

Genesis 18:1-15 & Matthew 17:1-9                                        Stephens City UMC


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


I.                   “No,” I thought as I looked at his picture on the wall, “that can’t be him.”

A.    After all, Jan and I were in Skippers, Virginia, and that was about the last place I would have expected to see his smiling face.

1.     I found myself having to suspend my disbelief because apparently this celebrity had friends in a mini-village in south side Virginia.

2.     The community of Skippers is one mile off I-95 as you prepare to cross from our Commonwealth into the state of North Carolina.

3.     The only reason we had gotten off the Interstate was that we were in peanut country, saw a sign for a store and since we wanted some peanuts that was good enough for us.

4.     The parking lot for the “Good Earth Peanut Company” could accommodate four vehicles and was composed of dirty dirt.

5.     The last time the outside of the store had been painted may have been immediately after World War II but the inside was nicer though quite plain and my office is bigger than their store.

6.     We found the peanuts we wanted (outstanding by the way) and as I was paying for our purchase I saw what required me to suspend my disbelief.

7.     Pictured with the owner of the company was none other than Pierce Brosnan, yes the actor who portrayed James Bond – 007, and was Sally Fields’ love interest in Mrs. Doubtfire, and before that Remington Steele.

8.      Seriously, James Bond had a connection to Skippers, Virginia?

9.      How did he get into the Skippers peanut story and how did Skippers get into his story?

B.     Well, it turned out that the owner of the Good Earth Peanut Company had made a trip to Ireland and one night while in a pub realized that Pierce Brosnan was also dining there so he worked through a waiter to convey that he had a gift to present to Mr. Brosnan.

1.     This was a business trip so he rushed back to his hotel to obtain several large containers of peanuts, returned to the pub (possibly with the James Bond theme playing in his head), and presented the peanuts to Mr. Brosnan who was so grateful after he tasted the peanuts (they were much better than what was being served at the pub) that he posed for a picture and has continued over the years to order peanuts from the “Good Earth Peanut Company.”

2.      I know I am asking you to suspend your disbelief (just how naïve does Jeff think I am?), but you know it must be true because there is no way I could make up a story like that.

C.     It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, who in 1817 coined the phrase “suspended disbelief.” (Jacob Armstrong, The God Story, p. 27)

1.     His point was that at times you have to suspend your disbelief in order to fully grasp a story.

2.     The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament said something similar, “Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

D.    The Rev. Jacob Armstrong whose material we are using in our sermon series “The God Story” comments that “God asks us to believe some things that at first glance seem unbelievable.”

1.     “God calls upon us to have faith which is the proof of what we do not see.”

2.     “If we base our lives only on what our eyes can see, we will miss out on some of the best parts of the story.” (Armstrong, The God Story, p. 28)

II.                 An Old Testament example of this is the story of Abram and Sarai.

A.    It appears that Abram had a great deal of interest in God’s story.

1.     Perhaps he was wondering where he fit into God’s story?

2.     Whatever, at age 75 Abram heard God speak to him.

3.     Part of what makes this conversation fascinating is that Abram is clearly on the downhill portion of his life.

4.     It is obvious that some things he had hoped would happen had happened, but many had not, most particularly an heir.

5.     At age 18 Abram would have been excited had he heard God say to him, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.”

6.     Sounds wonderful, but realistically for 75 year old Abram it appeared that God was late to the party. (Armstrong, The God Story, p. 31)

B.     But Abram suspended his disbelief and believed that by doing what was asked of him that he would play a role in God’s story.

1.     And indeed, we call Abraham the Father of the Faith because he just got up and went on the journey to which God had called him and it carried him all the way to the Promised Land.

2.     Abram wasn’t highly qualified; he was a herder and a really old dude.

3.     He was just about the last person on earth one would have thought of to start a family, but Abram believed the unbelievable so God overcame all obstacles and an incredible story was written.

C.     Abram found his place in God’s story; how are you doing finding your place in God’s story?

1.     The witness of the Bible is that God has a place for you in His story.

2.     You can’t say that you are too young or too old.

3.     You can’t say that you lack ability because we all lack ability in some areas.

4.     God’s story is that everyone has a place in God’s story, even you.

III.              God’s story is a really long story and this time of year we Christians find our way to the chapters in the story where Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, is heading to the cross and Christ calls us to not only follow him to the cross but to take our place as his disciples in the God story.

A.    You may have thought to yourself as the Gospel lesson was read, “Wait, didn’t we read that same passage two weeks ago?”

1.     And if you thought that then good for you because that proves that you are listening!

2.     Indeed, that was the lectionary text for Transfiguration Sunday, but scripture is so alive and dynamic that what I talked about two weeks ago didn’t even begin to cover it all.

3.     And we won’t cover it all today but that is part of the joy of reading God’s story because we discover so many ways it applies to our lives and ways we can enter the story.

B.     So, back to the mountain top with Jesus.

1.     One reason we need to go to this particular mountain top is to remind us that our vision is clouded.

2.     Now you’ve been around me long enough to know that I don’t have it all figured out and I’ve been around you long enough to know that you don’t have it all figured out.

3.     Even the Apostle Paul didn’t have it all figured out as he wrote to the church in Corinth, “Now we see through the glass, darkly.” (I Corinthians 13:12 KJV)

C.     On the Mount of Transfiguration when the light was the most brilliant Peter, James and John observed that “the veil (had been) pulled back for a glimpse of the universe’s essential spiritual reality, the centrality of Jesus in the world of light.” (John Petty, Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual 2014, p. 66)

1.     It was on that mountain top that a really important chapter in God’s story was written that actually recalled some of the earliest chapters in God’s story.

2.     Matthew tells us that this event occurred six days after Jesus’ comments about how he must suffer and go to the cross.

3.     The number six is really significant for all sorts of reasons.

4.     Remember in the God Story how God created for six days and after each day pronounced what He had done as good?

5.     And while we haven’t specifically talked about it if you go back and read Exodus 24:16 you will learn that Moses spent six days on the mountain with God receiving the 10 Commandments to help the Hebrew people live life as God wanted life to be lived.

6.      According to Matthew it was after six days that Jesus and the three disciples went up on the mountain top and not only Elijah showed up to join Jesus but that earlier six day man, Moses.

7.      This means that God is doing good work and here I’ll just cut to the chase, you as the reader are to figure out that Jesus is the embodiment of the seventh day in the creation chapter of God’s story and that in Jesus God’s work is complete.

8.      Being able to read Greek would help you here because Matthew uses the term to describe what a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly.

9.      It is “metamorphosized” into a completely new creation.

10.             Like the caterpillar appears to die in the tomb of its cocoon, so Jesus will die, be sealed in a tomb only to come alive as the first fruits of a new creation and a transformed world.

D.    The Book of Revelation will go into greater detail about the “new heaven and a new earth” that comes through Christ’s resurrection, but if you want to be part of God’s story in the chapters to follow then your next step is to follow Jesus down off that mountain top.

1.     I want to be very clear about that because in the original story Peter didn’t want to do that.

2.     Just like the Hebrew people after being liberated from Pharaoh wanted to go back to Egypt to the familiar and the comfortable, so Peter wanted to remain where he was comfortable which was why he offered to build the booths or dwellings.

3.      Jesus would have none of it so he touched the disciples and said, “Get up and don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 17:7, NRSV)

4.     I think he said that because after his comments about the cross it may have appeared to the disciples that to come off that mountain meant going over a cliff to certain death and going off a cliff is scary.

E.     Maybe you are at a cliff experience right now in your life, a scary diagnosis, the loss of a job, a divorce, whatever – you can’t see where the path goes next or even what the path is like.

1.     The valley is way down there, and the mountainside feels like it is crumbling beneath your feet, and you know that to survive you’ll have to hit bottom which at a minimum is going to be a loud thud.

2.     But in the God Story those who go on with Jesus at this point find that he is with them and he is honest enough not to lie.

3.     He doesn’t deny that it’s going to be tough and difficult, but he says stick with me because I will stick with you.

4.     Moreover, I’m going to a dying place just off a main road so that a chapter can be written about a forgiving place, a reconciling place, a renewing place, an eternal living place.

F.     That’s God’s story and I hope you will take steps to find your place in that story even though it means you must suspend your disbelief to accept a story even more incredible than that James Bond has a personal connection to Skippers, VA.

1.     And if James Bond can get into the Skippers, VA, story through the gift of some peanuts then God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ will get you into God’s story.