“The God Story: The Rising Incident”                                             March 29, 2014

I Samuel 16:1-13 & Matthew 19:16-26                                          Stephens City UMC


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


I.                   As we have been making our way through Jacob Armstrong’s material on “The God Story” we have been introduced to a number of literary terms and today’s term is “The Inciting Incident.”

A.    That term refers to when a character’s life has been going in one direction and suddenly it goes in a completely different direction.

1.     Something happens so that the character’s life is turned upside down or inside out.

2.     The character may have been living in peace and tranquility but someone else shows up to set off a story that is a mixture of adventure, danger and blessing.

3.     That’s what happens in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy to Frodo the Hobbit when Gandalf the Wizard arrives in the Shire.

4.     A ring of power has to be destroyed or Middle Earth will be lost so a humble hobbit is selected to be the ring bearer and his task is going to have a lot of similarities to bearing a cross.

5.     Once Frodo sets off on his journey he can’t return through the door of his hobbit hole and those of us who read the trilogy or watched the movies find we had to keep reading or watching to learn what would happen.

B.     Inciting incidents occur in the Bible.

1.     For Abraham it was when his wife became pregnant.

2.     Expecting a child is an inciting incident for any couple but Sarah was 90 years old and Abraham was 100 so they take the trophy for this dubious award.

3.     For Joseph it was when his brothers threw him in a pit where they were going to leave him to die before it was decided to sell him to some slave traders and make some money in getting rid of him.

4.     For Moses it was stumbling upon a bush that wouldn’t burn up.

C.     But each of those three believed that God would use the inciting incident to write an incredibly creative chapter in God’s story.

1.     Abraham saw his wife’s pregnancy as the fulfillment of God’s promise to him.

2.     Joseph used the misfortune he faced as a way to honor God.

3.     Moses believed that God could use him to play a role in liberating God’s people from slavery.

D.    Jacob Armstrong in his companion guide to “The God Story” asks, “If you look at the story of your life, what inciting incidents come to mind?”

1.     That’s a deeply profound question and I hope you can answer it.

2.     For me I go back two decades ago to when I was serving a church that had not been growing like it should have been growing.

3.     We made some progress my first year as we had 14 new members.

4.     The second year we gained 24 new members.

5.     The last six months I was there we gained 42 new members and the worship attendance went from 180 to 220.

6.     And I was asked to move because the old timers who had been there for 3, 4, 5 generations were frightened by how much their church was changing.

7.      And since they owned the majority of the bonds that had been sold to pay for the new building (and it was a magnificent sanctuary) when those folks let the word out that if I didn’t move then they were going to call in their notes which would have caused serious financial difficulties for the church, I got moved.

8.     And there’s a lot more to that story but life has never been the same for Jan and me and the kids since then, and I came this close to getting out of ordained ministry.

9.     But I decided that God wasn’t done using me in His story so I stayed in, and I decided to be guided by what God thought of me and not what people thought of me.

10.             And the truth is that that heartbreaking experience made me a better minister as Jan has said after that I became more compassionate and developed more insight into people.

11.             I have never believed that God caused all that but I do believe that God took the human sin (some of which was mine) and transformed it which sent me on a completely different journey in ministry.

12.             And when I think of the things that transpired after that so that I and the churches I later served resettled refugees and began special children’s and youth ministries and I went on mission trips to Costa Rica and Cuba and started homeless shelters in Harrisonburg and Winchester and I came to be assigned to Stephens City United Methodist Church, like the Apostle Paul I count all things as loss for I have gained Christ and so much more.

E.     So that’s an inciting incident for me – what inciting incidents have you experienced and how is God calling you to live after some of your life-changing moments?

1.     If you think such a thing could never happen to you because you are untalented and lack significance let me remind you of a chapter in God’s story that should tell you to change your thinking - it’s the story we read from I Samuel 16.

2.     Israel’s great king experiment had been a disaster up to this point.

3.     As Jacob Armstrong says, “Their first king, Saul, started strong but eventually became insecure, paranoid, and self-focused.” (p. 65)

4.     So God sends the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king.

5.     The male offspring of Jesse are paraded before Samuel, one after another, and all are tall, strong, and look impressive.

6.     But God says, “not that one…no, not that one…”

7.     Finally, it looks like Jesse has run out of sons, but there is one left.

8.     He’s the youngest and he’s out in the field shepherding the sheep when he’s summoned to stand before Samuel.

9.      His name is David and God says, “He’s the one.”

10.             But he’s the youngest, the smallest, it’s not clear that he’s gifted.

11.             “God, you sure about this one?”

12.             God says that He’s sure and for David this will become his inciting incident - everything changes from this moment on.

F.     It will be really good for you to know David’s story, to know this chapter in God’s story.

1.     Here’s why – God calls the unlikely and gives them a better story.

2.     David thought his story was to be a shepherd boy but God transformed that shepherd story so that David ended up shepherding an entire nation.

3.     Later that story will be transformed again and one born in Bethlehem who is in David’s line, Jesus, will become the Good Shepherd of all of God’s sheep.

4.     One thing to remember from today is that throughout God’s story the unlikely are chosen for God’s holy purposes.

5.     God uses the poor, the outcast, the rascal, the prostitute, the rejected and a baby born in a manger to save this world.

6.     You probably wouldn’t write the story that way but God does which to get personal means that God sees something in you.

7.     All you have to do is to be willing to play a role in God’s story and God will more than write you in.

II.                 Having said that we can turn to our Gospel lesson for today about a rich man who asks a question that many have even today for Jesus, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?”

A.    Now being rich is not necessarily bad.

1.     What can be bad is how you allow your material wealth to affect you.

B.     So Jesus and the rich man talk about this but let’s be clear about the context of their conversation.

1.     As N.T. Wright says in his book Lent for Everyone, Matthew, Year A, “When the rich man speaks of ‘having eternal life’, and when Jesus speaks of ‘entering the kingdom of heaven’, or ‘having treasure in heaven’, they are not talking about ‘life after death’ in the popular, modern sense.” (p. 75)

2.     The conversation is about the “renewal of all things” which is in verse 28 (p. 75) because Jesus is proclaiming that someday heaven will rule earth and sin will be overcome and the peace and righteousness that existed in the Garden of Eden prior to the Fall will be restored.

3.     Understand as we near Holy Week that people don’t turn on Jesus because he says “After you die you’ll get to go to heaven and live with God and your loved ones for all eternity.”

4.     Yes, by faith, that is true but even if you don’t believe it, it isn’t something that makes you want to kill the person saying it.

5.     What makes people turn and want to kill Jesus is that he is saying that God is going to turn the world upside down and inside out (oh my, an inciting incident) so that all that stuff is coming true that his mother sang in the Magnificat in Luke chapter 1 about her child “He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.” (Luke 1:51-53)

6.     Plus, Jesus has preached that the meek of all people shall inherit the earth and the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

7.     God is bringing huge changes Jesus says and that’s the truth that people can’t handle which is why they decide to kill him.

C.     In Matthew 19 the rich man is an example of someone who can’t handle this.

1.     His material wealth has become like a lining of lead around his heart (Wright, Lent for Everyone, p. 76) and it has the effect of insulating him from God and from everyone else.

2.      Jesus can see that the way the man is handling his material wealth is dragging him down to become less and less of the person God wants the man to be. (Wright, p. 76)

3.     What is frustrating is that the man is eager and willing to grow in faith and discipleship – except of the one thing that mattered. (Wright, p. 76)

4.     Jesus strives to help him understand the one thing that mattered by listing some of the commandments: murder, adultery, theft, lying, honoring father and mother and then Jesus summarizes the whole law with the phrase of “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Wright, p. 76)

5.     Why didn’t Jesus list the other commandments like not having any other gods but the God of Israel and honoring the true God and keeping the Sabbath?

6.     Ah, but Jesus does in a different way because after the rich man tells Jesus that he’s done and is doing the first ones on Jesus’ list Jesus gives him two more: sell your possessions in order to give your money to the poor and come and follow me.

7.     That last statement is Jesus’ way of saying “Put God first” and for us Christians we believe that by putting Jesus first we are putting God first for God and Jesus are one.

D.    What is sad is that Matthew tells us that the rich man went away sorrowful for he had many possessions.

1.     There was a place for him in the God story and he walked away from that place because he wasn’t willing to let go or to change.

2.     The rich man wanted to write the God story his way, but God says “No, I’m the author of the God story and it will be written this way.”

E.     Fortunately, this chapter of the God story does not end on this sad note.

1.     The disciples have witnessed this exchange between Jesus and the rich man and this becomes an inciting incident for them because a light bulb begins to go off in their heads.

2.     Jesus talks about how getting saved is more difficult than a camel passing through the eye of a needle so they blurt out “So who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25)

3.     Given our sin and our stubbornness and our self-will, how can we get into God’s story of salvation?

4.     Then Jesus looked at them as he is looking at you, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But (and this is God’s story) everything’s possible with God.” (Matthew 19:26)