July 20, 2014

The Story of Your Life

Proper 11A (RCL, Track 1)

The StoryCorps segment on NPR each Friday morning is a highlight of my week. StoryCorps invites friends and family to interview each other about a wide range of topics, almost all of which have to do with human relationships. These stories of everyday Americans are then archived in the Library of Congress. I tend to hold my breath as the story begins because I never know if it will leave me smiling or with a warm happy feeling or be one that causes a weird lump in my throat and water to well up in my eyes.

We have read lots of great stories in our culture (To Kill a Mockingbird, Les Miserable, anything by Mark Twain). And we've all read, at least bits and pieces, of the Bible. The Bible is the best selling book of all time, and probably the least read, most misunderstood, and most debated book of all time, too.

In this epic work, is the story you, and me, and the person across the street at First Baptist and the guy at Bear Towne Java who didn't go to church today. It is the story of God's people past, present, and future.

As Episcopalians, we believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to contain all things necessary for salvation*, and it tells the story of God's people from the beginning of time through the earliest years of Christianity and the persecution endured under Nero. it uses words to paint the picture of a people who were disjointed and nomadic and could hardly be called "a people" yet. And it follows how God used this one family, Abraham's family, to not only grow in numbers as Abraham's grandson Jacob is promised in today's reading, but to also grow in their trust of their Lord and God so that they went where ever God called them to go. Maybe not without some questions and hesitations (they are human after all), but they go. And they grow.

Scripture tells the story of how this wandering people who are made a People of God grow to the point that they don't need God anymore, at least not in the way they once did. And it tells the story of God calling out for these people like a shepherd calls out for a lost sheep or a parent searches for a wandering child. And it tells how their reconciliation and reunion was a holy and beautiful moment.

Scripture tells the story of God becoming human so that humanity could become more divine. It shows us how Jesus himself used stories to teach the throngs of people who wanted to learn from him. The people who wrote the story of Jesus called them parables because they had a specific purpose in telling the story. A parable uses figurative language to evoke a reality that goes well beyond the surface of the story.  In fact, sometimes the story is so ridiculous that the hearers would know right away that the story teller was trying to make a broader point. I mean, what farmer would scatter his precious and valuable seeds on rocky ground or on the road? And what farmer's enemy would spend the time to sow weeds among the crop? And Jesus' hearers would have known how ridiculous the idea of cultivating mustard seed is. You might was well talk about cultivating kudzu or dandelions.

This holy and sacred book goes to great lengths to tell the story of God and the story of God's people. During this season of the church year, we are following the development of Abraham's family, highlights really, as his family grows to be more numerous than the stars of the sky and the sands of the desert, just as God promised. We hear how Isaac and Jacob find wives, how Jacob and Esau are reconciled, how Joseph ends up in Egypt, and how God hears the cry of their oppression in a foreign land.

As we follow Jesus' ministry in Matthew's Gospel this summer, we find ourselves in the middle of "Parable Season," sort of like a story within a story.

We so easily forget that each of us has a story to tell. That our lives, whether we want to believe it or not, are worth telling others about. No matter how ordinary or extra-ordinary we well our lives are, we have an amazing story to tell. It occurred to me the other day that the reason my grandfather told such great stories was because he had so many stories to choose from, if for no other reason than he lived a long, full, and faith-filled life. And my grandfather could tell! A! Story!

But here's why your stories are worth telling: Because God is in the midst of your story.

Whether we are sitting at the feet of Jesus or alone in a field like Jacob, God is an intimate part of the story we have to share with the world. The challenge we have, like Jacob, is naming where God is in our story and how God is acting and has acted in the past. If we can name those moments and times, our faith be strengthened that God will act again in the future.

When they write the story of your life, where are the places you want people to know that God was most deeply involved: Leading, guiding, teaching, tugging pulling?

Maybe it was when you encountered God in an unexpected place or in a surprising way. Maybe you felt that you and God were a million miles apart, only to discover that God was present in every person who gave you an encouraging word or helpful advice or even just a smile. Maybe God was just as much a part of a loved one's miraculous healing and a good friend's peaceful passing. Maybe it was when you saw God do the impossible, even though you doubted.

Just as God is active in the lives of each person in Scripture, God is active and working in our life story as well. The question is: Do we know it, feel it, see it, believe it, enough to tell the world our story?

* Article VI of the Articles of Religion, 1801, Book of Common Prayer, p. 868