What’s your story? If you often meet new people, chances are you have figured out a way to answer the question “tell us a little bit about yourself” in a somewhat succinct way. In conferences and retreats, I’ve had leaders instruct us to find a partner and each spend 1-2 minutes telling our life story to each other. It seems both a really long time, and not nearly enough time to get it all in, so you’re forced to pick and choose what is the most important to you, at least for that moment in time.
Everyone has a story to tell. The stories we tell are reflections of who we have been, who we are today, and who we want to be. Telling them matters. Listening to them matters even more. Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley say:
Stories make claims on our minds and hearts, often before we know why or how . .. Stories hold us together and keep us apart. We tell stories in order to live . . . Stories are privileged and imaginative acts of self-interpretation[i].
As people of God, we are a storytelling people. From the very beginning, God’s story has been told. Our text from Deuteronomy 6 reminds us of this rich heritage. Immediately following the reading of the Ten Commandments this is what they are to do: pass the story on. It’s important. Tell it not just to your children, but to your children’s children. This is what will help you prosper and have life. These are sacred words and instructions. Keep them close to you. Bind them to your very person so they are always close at hand, a tangible reminder of the God who brought you out of slavery in Egypt and is still with you today. For the people of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, this is a particularly important reminder. They are away from their homes, from all that they know, uncertain of their future. In these challenging times, they turn to the stories of their faith to remind them of God’s presence. For a displaced people, it is the stories that kept them going and kept them alive, connected to their homeland and looking forward to the promise of a better tomorrow.
Storytelling is the basis of our written Scriptures, which began as oral traditions that eventually made their way to parchment and paper and now pixels on a smartphone. But regardless of how they are transmitted, the Gospel of John spells out the reason for these books – they are written so that we might believe and have life in Jesus’ name. The Bible is God’s Story. Each time we open its pages, we dive into the incredible witness of Scripture from beginning to end. We are captivated by the creative energy and careful guidance of Israel. We are startled by prophetic proclamations. We are humbled and rejoice in the example and teachings of Jesus and the powerful good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. We see how the early church wrestled with how to be disciples in a changing world. Our exploration of the Bible, though, is not just an advanced literature or history course. These stories weren’t just written to be taken as factual footnotes or a narrative resume for the Divine. Rather, they were written so that they would have an impact on us. They are stories to captivate our hearts, our souls, our minds, and to prompt us into action.
The Bible is God’s story. The Bible is also our story. When we study it, we learn about people of faith throughout the centuries. We may even discover people like us – the stories of Scripture include an assortment of characters – poor and rich, young and old, male and female, hopeful and cynical – and God works through them all. Like the people in Scripture, we too have our stories of faith. They are moments where we have come to know who God is in profound ways, times when we have wrestled with angels and demons and struggled to understand, when we have rested in God’s presence or in the comfort of God’s embrace as we wept, and when we have danced for joy in the presence of the Lord. They are our stories of faith.
God’s story so powerful, so incredible, so important, that we have to gather together to tell it to each other. That’s what worship is each week – an opportunity to retell God’s story to each other, and to celebrate how God’s story has intersected with ours. Through worship, we can interpret our stories in light of the story of Jesus and God’s overwhelming love for us. We can better make sense of our own stories and of the stories of the world, and we can rest and trust in the author of our stories, giving praise to a God who is the alpha and omega, the beginning and end of all stories.
When our stories and God’s story intersects, discipleship is the result. Living a life of faith means living into God’s stories and making them our own. It begins with studying them, reading and talking about them to the point that they become woven into your very being. For many this happens with a favorite story of verse, such as Psalm 23, that comes quickly to the surface when we are in need of comfort or reassurance. But the more we engage in our understanding of God’s story, the more readily these stories will come to us in a variety of circumstances, both challenging and celebratory. And, perhaps even more important than a litany of memory verses, we begin to embody the values and ideals God exemplifies and encourages in these texts. We become storytellers.
This fall, a large part of our visioning process is helping tell the stories of our lives and the life and ministry of this congregation. The reflections in worship two weeks ago, along with upcoming opportunities for conversations, help us think about where we have been and who we are now, in order to imagine who God is calling us to be. Visioning is about continuing to write the story, and when it is done well, we remember that it is not just a story of our own design; it is God’s story, too.
God’s stories are begging to be told, not just by the preacher on a Sunday morning, but by each and every one of us day in and day out as we seek to be a part of God’s story. So this morning, we’re going to get a little practice. I invite you to take a few moments to collect your thoughts, then find a friend (or two or three) and spend some time sharing a story of your faith. You can use the questions in your bulletin insert as a guide if you like. It can be as simple as your favorite Bible story or verse and why it matters to you. It can be a time when you have felt particularly close or particularly far from God. It can be a story of your past, your present, or even a story you hope for in your future. Whatever your story is, I invite you to share it with someone else today. This is just a taste or sample of what it is like, of course – try to only speak for a few minutes to allow others to have a turn – but perhaps it’s a practice we can engage in more regularly as a community of God’s people. As we explore God’s Story, let’s share it and our own stories with each other. Because when we do, we will be a witness to a living and active God, who continues to write all of our stories – even today, even now. This is God’s Story. This is Our Story. May it continue to unfold. Amen.
From bulletin insert: Sharing Our Stories
Consider these questions about your faith story:
• What is one of your favorite memories of church or experiences in faith?
• Who helped you learn about God on your faith journey?
• Where is a time or place you have felt closest to God?
• What are some of your favorite Bible stories or verses?
• What is one puzzling question you have about God or faith?
~Rev. Elizabeth Lovell Milford
September 23, 2018
[i] Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley, Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals: Weaving Together the Human and the Divine. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998).