I finished reading a friend's book the other day, Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear by Matthew Kaemingk. It is a fascinating read. I agree with a lot for which he argues, and I disagree with other parts, but all in all it is a really thought provoking read. It has caused me to think a lot about the stories we tell ourselves, our family, and the world around us, and not only the stories we tell but also the stories we are told. In a portion of the book Kaemingk talks about how certain stories we have been told about Islam and Muslims have shaped our narrative, understanding, and imagination.
I am not going to get into whether or not I agree or disagree with Kaemingk's argument. However, Kaemingk's reflection on 'story' grabbed hold of me this week, especially as I read Thomas Brooks and Precious Remedies. As Brooks talks about the ways Satan tempts us to sin with device nine and ten in chapter 2, he basically says that Satan tells us stories. Satan lays before us narratives of Christians who suffer severely for walking in holiness and he tells us that our sins are not as bad as other people's sins. These are stories that he wants to get us to believe. They are compelling stories. Who wants to suffer? Who wants to think that their sin is actually so horrible as to deserve death and hell?
These stories have power. They can create a reality for us. They can make us believe things about ourselves and the world around us. Yet, the beauty is that in the church we hear another story. It is a story that is told to us every Sunday as we worship. It is told to us in the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and the prayers. Connected to those ordinary means, the church tells us a different story as we worship alongside saints from other generations. As we are discipled in the church alongside infants and those in their 90s, we are reminded of different stories. We are told how those stories connect to the one true story. Satan only tells us of the suffering that the holy endure. Yet, the saint that has walked with the Lord can tell you how the Lord has turned her mourning into dancing. Satan tells us that our sins are not that bad. However, another saint, who has walked with the Lord for 40 years, can tell us about the way in which a little leaven, leavened the whole loaf, or how little sin grows and ends up touching everyone in the community.
Kaemingk's book ends with a call to worship that imagines a new reality. I think in essence what he is calling for is Christian worship that is faithful to the story of the Gospel. I think what he is looking for is Christian churches where we share and hear the testimonies of God's faithfulness throughout the years of toil. We easily get wrapped up in our own lives. We easily think that the struggle we are having at that moment is unique and no one can understand it. To some extent that is true, your struggle is yours and it will be different from my struggle. However, in the church when we worship alongside each other, we hear new stories, and how they are tied to the one story. We hear that the challenges we face today are not so different from challenges faced in the previous generations. We hear these things, and we are able to be strengthened for the fight. We hear these things and we are able to teach them to the generation following us, a generation that, no doubt, will face unique challenges, but ones that are not that different from ours.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
I am currently reading through Thomas Brooks Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. If you would like to read along, next week we will cover chapter 2, devices 11-12.