Wesley United Methodist Church

(David Atkins)

Everybody loves a good story.   What do children say to their parents every night at bedtime?  ``Tell me a story."  Why do people go to movies or watch television (except for QVC) or read novels?  Its all about stories.  Why am I such a Harry Potter fan?  Because it is an epic story of the struggle between good and evil, the light side and the dark side.  Stories shape us.  Stories hold an essential influence in our lives.  Most of us probably had a favorite story when we were children, either in a book or a story that someone told to us.  My favorite children's book was The Little Engine That Could.  And, of course, my favorite Bible story was David and Goliath.  (The little guy wins.) Our family gathered every night in the living room and read a Bible story.  That was my inspiration to learn to read.

Stories inspire us.  My great, great grandfather's journal of his journey to Idaho in the 1860 gold rush was a great inspiration.  The story of the lives of  Albert Schweitzer, the von Trapp family, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi inspired me.  Sometimes stories frighten us; often they challenge us; and frequently they teach us the most important lessons of life.  How did Jesus teach?  With parables, of course.  And what is a parable?  An earthly story with a heavenly meaning.

I often tell people that I have the best job in the world.  Why?  Not only do I get to participate in hundreds of people's heroic journeys, but I get to hear their stories.  It occurred to me the other day that my job as a therapist is really very simple.  It is my job to listen to stories all day long.  Dianne Cooper, a colleague of mine, put it this way the other day when we were talking about the privilege of sharing in our client's lives:  She said, ``We are basically witnesses.  We witness their journey, their story.``  Can you imagine a better job?  All I have to do is provide a safe and comfortable place for people to tell their story and explore the meaning and possibility of life in the midst of their life story.  What I do as a counselor is called psychotherapy, which means, literally, ``the healing of the spirit," for it takes the two Greek words, psyche (SPIRIT) and therapy (HEALING) and puts them together.  The hearing and the telling of a story heals the spirit.

That is why we have the Bible.  The Bible is basically a collection of stories meant to teach, guide, and inspire us.  SoŠ what is the story for today?  The flood.  No, not Katrina, although that remains a story of epic proportions.  The story for today is The Great Flood, the flood which is mentioned in almost every religion and culture on this planet.  As Christians we have it from the Hebrew tradition and, as you probably know, in the Hebrew tradition every story has at least one moral.  As we read this story in Genesis, chapters 6-8, we see many morals.  First, we see that there are consequences for evil, Chapter 6, verses 5-7 (read), and chapter 7, verses 19-24.  But, in Chapter 6, verse 8 (read), we see that God notices righteousness,  and in verses 13-21, God provides a way of escape from the consequences of evil by telling Noah to build an ark.  In Chapter 6, verse 22 through Chapter 7, verse 7, we see that obedience to God's commands produces life-giving results, for Noah and his family and representatives very every specie of animal are saved.  So, there is a price to be paid for every decision, every act, and there is also a reward, be it positive or negative.

Different people can hear the same story but see different morals.  An optimist like me tends to focus on the salvation aspect of the story.  However, the destruction of all of life with the exception of the family of Noah and the few animals in the ark, can not be ignored.  The people were evil.  They were destroyed.  And that was that.  Or was it?  Peter gives a resounding ``NO!"  There is more.  It's not over.  Or, as Paul Harvey would put it, we need to hear ``THE REST OF THE STORY."  And the rest of the story is found in Peter's letter to the Christian community at large, written thousands of years after the flood.

This is one of the most remarkable passages in the entire Bible.  Several months ago, when I agreed to preach on this Sunday during Pastor Kimberly's recuperation from surgery, I emailed her to find out the scriptures from the lectionary.  When I discovered I Peter 18-22 was the epistle reading, I practically jumped for joy.  For me, this passage contains the very heart of the gospel message, the essence of the nature of God, and the climax of Christ's ministry.  In fact, it is the basis for one of the lines of the Apostles Creed which is No. 881 in the back of our hymnal.  Right in the middle of the traditional version, in the section asserting what we believe about Christ, states:  ``He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into Hell."  However, the ecumenical version of that creed, printed right below it, No. 882, gives a more accurate translation of that last phrase:  ``He descended to the dead."  I would bet that most people don't have a clue what that last phrase is referring to, but it is referring to the spirit action of Christ after he was put to death, his descent into the place of the dead, the prison where the souls have been trapped since the flood, in order to minister to them.  This is not a place of  fire and damnation, but, in the Hebrews mind, a place of separation from life.

Listen to this morning's scripture again:  I Peter 3:18-20, 4:1 and 6.

So ``the rest of the story" regarding the destruction of those who were evil and died in the great flood, tells us, first of all, that God's love is universal.  God's love and grace is so immense, so inclusive, so extensive, that it reaches past the time and space of the physical to the spirits of those who have died.  Verse 18 states it strongly: Christ died for sins, once and for ALL.  You can't get any more universal than that.  This is a theme throughout the writings of Paul (Philippians 2:10; Ephesians 4:9,10) and is also present in Revelations (Rev. 5:13).  God's love, Christ's sacrifice, is so universal that it is not only for the people of Christ's time, but is for all people of all time--past, present, and future.  And its universal purpose is to unite us all as one, as Paul stated in his letter to the Ephesians, 1:9-10.

The Course in Miracles puts it this way:  (Workbook for students, p. 230):

``Love is one.  It has no separate parts and no degrees; no kinds nor levels, no divergencies and no distinctions.  Š It is the Heart of God, and also of His Child.  Š Love cannot judge.   As it is one itself, it looks on all as one.  Its meaning lies in oneness.  And it must elude the mind that thinks of it as partial or in part.  There is no love but God's, and all of love is His.  Š Its wholeness is the power holding everything as one, the link between the Father and the Child which holds Them both forever as the same. Š What you are is what He is.  There is no love but His, and what He is, is everything there is.  There is no limit placed upon Himself, and so are you unlimited as well."

Then we can say, secondly, that God's love is eternal.  It is not held in by the boundary of time.  In fact, the limitation of time as we know it is not present in God's spirit world, only in our temporal world.  With God, there is unity of all things and all times, a oneness that stretches us into a concept of life almost impossible for humans to grasp.  The Psalmist attempts to express the immensity of this love in Psalm 139:7-12.(Read)   Verse 8 expresses the same truth that Peter expresses.  This is love almost beyond our comprehension.

William Barclay states that this passage asserts three great truths:  First, Jesus Christ not only tasted death, but drained the cup of death; secondly, the triumph of Christ is universal; and thirdly, there is no corner of the universe into which the grace of God has not reached.  (Daily Bible Studies, p. 243)

Some years ago a group of Christian missionaries in India were meeting with one of the great meditation masters, Kirpal Singh Ji, discussing the universal love of God, when one of the missionaries asked, ``What about Judas?  What happened to him?"  Master Kirpal responded, ``He is sitting in the lap of Jesus."  To which the missionary replied, ``How can that be when he not only betrayed Jesus but hung himself."  Master Kirpal answered, ``It was a personal sin against Jesus and he forgave him personally."  At that point an old, retired missionary said, ``Ah, as it should be."

I was startled a few weeks ago as I was reading my morning devotional literature and came across this statement:  God does not forgive.  ``What?" I thought, ``how can that be."  The writer went on to say that God does not forgive because forgiveness is based on condemnation, and since God does not condemn, since God is pure love and God's love is full acceptance of us just as we are, there is no need for God to forgive.  Forgiveness is a concept we have constructed based on the illusion of our separation from God.

God's love is universal.  God's love is eternal.  And, thirdly, this love calls the spirit into life and union with God.  I Peter 3:18b-19, and 4:6.  Peter tells us that Jesus preaches to those who died in the flesh, who were judged in the flesh like men, so that they could live in the spirit like God.  LIKE GOD.  I think this means that they were being invited to be reunited to the very essence of God, to be reunited to the loving, life-giving spirit of God, from which we have all come and to which we will all return.  This asserts that even those who had completely abandoned God were never abandoned by God, but invited once again to life in the spirit, just as we are now invited into that life, returning to the essence of who we are.

Peter made this assertion previously in his ministry.  Remember, it was Peter who preached the sermon on the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts, chapter 2.  In that sermon Peter quotes Psalm 16, verses 8-11 (Acts 2:27-28) ``For thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades (the place of the dead), nor let thy Holy One see corruption.  Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou wilt make me full of gladness with thy presence."  Gladness, joy is the result of life in the spirit.

The Jewish concept of this world after death was a gray world of shadows and forgetfulness, in which people were separated from life and light and God. (Wm. Barclay)  Peter asserts that it is never too late to come into the life of the spirit, that God's invitation into this life of joy and gladness is given to everyone.  God's love is universal. God's love is eternal.  God's love invites us into the spirit filled life.

That is why Peter tells the story of the flood, Part II.  And that, my friends, is the rest of the story.

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