Sermon: The Storytellers
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:1-4
Date: June 7, 2015
I saw this week a list of the top ten most viewed movies of all time. Not the top money makers but the ten movies that have been seen by the most people the most times. Anyone want to venture a guess as to which movie was No. 1. The movie that has been seen the most times by the most people world wide? Released 17 years ago, it’s the movie Titanic. Now I’m not sure who did the counting but I can only assume that it means that a lot of people have seen the movie, have seen it more than once. It was a movie that cost $200 million to make and has made many times more than that in 17 years. All for a movie that was nearly dead in the water (please pardon the pun) before it was even released. Critics said who is going to go see a movie when you know what is going to happen in the end. You know the boat sink. You know that many people die. Why go see it? I once saw an interview with the director James Cameron, who was asked what he attributed the success to, and he said that many come for the first time to see the special effects, but that it was the story, the love story, that brought people back. He compared it to the attraction of “Gone With The Wind” (which was number 2 on the list). The first time, people are attracted by the grandeur, the spectacle. The Scenes like the burning of Atlanta. But the reason that people kept coming back over the years was the story. And that should not surprise us. The art of storytelling Is one of the most ancient of art forms. In early civilizations, the storyteller was the most important person in the community. He was the keeper of history, The protector of tradition, the spinner of dreams. By the way he told the story, he could dictate the future. The people would gather around the campfire and hear the stories of the ages. Every civilization, every culture, has its story. And storytellers. The same is true of organizations, and businesses, churches, there are stories to be told which inform the past and help show us the future. Families have their stories to tell , too. We gather together and the story teller reminds us of where we’ve been and where we are and where we’re going. We are shaped by our stories and we are led by the Storyteller. The stories we tell do more than entertain. They give us roots in which we can often find strength and comfort. And they challenge us to do better. That was Paul’s hope for the Corinthian Church. When Paul went to Corinth, he found it to be a crossroads in the empire where people of all persuasions came and many had stayed. It had been tough forging a worshipping community in such a cosmopolitan place. And when he left, the church that he founded struggled a great deal. And so Paul wrote to them. And in his letters he mediated their disputes and instructed them In the proper ways. And he told them the stories of Faith. He told them about the Exodus and the wanderings in the desert. Times that God had provided food to eat and made water flow from the rock. The story of God. Because Paul knew that there was nothing that he could say that was more powerful, more able to change and transform lives then the story of faith. Paul knew that no matter what made them come in the first place, that it was the story that called them back to faith. Faith has its roots in the stories. That’s why throughout the Old Testament, when the people would wander from the truth, a story teller would come and draw them back. The prophets were storytellers. We know those stories, don’t we. Most of us learned them in Sunday School. For many of us, Sunday School teachers were our storytellers. Abraham and Sarah and Isaac. Noah and the Ark. Moses and the Exodus. Joseph and his brothers. David and Goliath. The crumbling of the walls at Jericho. The Burning Bush. Leonard Sweet writes:
In Jewish culture, storytelling has always been the predominant way each new generation has been invited to personally step into the stream of Jewish salvation history. The rabbis never retold a biblical tale using the word “them.” The experiences of the patriarchs, the enslaved Hebrews, the wandering Israelites, the citizens of the newly established Israel, or the exiled audiences of the prophets are always referred to as “us.” Historical stories become new and alive, vital and significant to each new generation of Jewish children because they are personally brought into the biblical tales of wonder and woe. The Jewish Rabbis told the stories of faith and those stories had the power to change lives, to convert.
So in the Rabbinic tradition, Jesus was a great storyteller. In the Gospels we find at least 46 stories or parables that have been passed down and retold for centuries. Most of these stories he told to the crowds that gathered to hear Him teach and witness His miracles. But A few He told just to the Disciples, in more intimate settings like around the campfire after they had left the crowds behind for the day. And it was in those moments that Jesus let the Disciples know that after He left, they would become the story tellers. And indeed, the stories of Matthew and Mark and John were passed down by the story tellers for many years before they were ever put in written form. And later Luke would come along, hear the stories, and compile many of them into one book and call it the Gospel – the Good News that had been passed from generation to generation by story tellers, not in the synagogues or Temple – they were not welcome there – but it was around the campfires of Judea that they told the stories about Jesus and the stories of Jesus. And certainly, those stories had the power to change lives, to call people to repentance, to communicate god’s love. Jesus’ stories were drawn from the real lives and everyday concerns of His listeners. They were about the relationship between father and son. A shepherd who loses a sheep. The mysteries of sowing and reaping. Jesus took those and wove them into the fabric of everyday life. And for 2000 years His stories have been told and retold in countless settings. Sunday School classes. It is so neat that as we tell some of these stories this summer, that Susan and those who work with the children will be telling the same stories. And the stories have been told in worship in churches all over the world for centuries. Many of them have become the basis for some of our literary classics. Artists have illustrated them with paint and canvas and other kinds of mediums. Movies and shows have retold the stories countless times. They have been told in fox holes and court rooms. They have formed the basis of our human values. They have been told in the highest halls of government and around the campfire at Aldersgate camp. And for many of us, they have become the stories of our life. The stories of faith. The stories of Jesus. The story of God.
But here’s the mistake that the church often makes. We often assume that everyone has heard and knows the stories of Jesus and Faith. When Jesus called the Disciples, He in essence was calling them to be the Storytellers and had they not continued to tell the stories then the Christian Faith would have died with them. Well the same is true today. When Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship, He is calling on us to be the storytellers and if we do not continue to tell the stories around the campfires today, then the faith will not continue. Those Stories are our witness.
Paul is assuming the role of story teller for the church at Corinth. Of all the places that Paul took the story of Jesus, the Gospel, Corinth was the least receptive. In large part because there weren’t many Jews in Corinth. And so they did not know the stories of faith. And so Paul tells the stories to the Corinthians, no doubt when he was in Corinth but also through his writings to the church. And so he tells them about how the cloud and pillar of fire guided the people through the wilderness as they fled enslavement in Egypt through the wilderness, and the manna that fell from the sky for them to feast on, and the water that flowed from the rock when they were thirsty. All of these became a part of the Corinthian’s story because the Rock was Jesus Christ, the bread of life and from whom the living water flowed. He told them the stories which capture the essence of the faith and character of the People of God, the People of the Way.
So what are our stories today. Are they the stories of faith, or are they other stories? Is our life illustrated in the stories that Jesus told? And are we telling the stories of faith. Or have we replaced the stories of faith with other stories and are those the stories that we are telling?
What stories are we telling? One writer says:
We can scream about the moral failure of society. We can blame an absentee parent.. We can point to a general cultural glorification of sin. But the greater problem may be that inside this generation of frightened and frightening children, there is a huge hollow in the heart where all the stories of our ancestors (in faith), all the tales of woes and warning, all the familiar recitations of dreams and hopes should reside. Without these stories, our children have no landmarks, no moral maps, no hitching posts to guide them on their way.
Are we telling the stories of God? To our children? In our community? Even in the church? Or are we allowing other stories to take their place? Giving our role of storyteller to others. I believe that we, in the church, must reclaim our heritage as storytellers. We must tell the stories of faith from the perspective of everyday life, just as Jesus did. . One preacher laments:
The church seems to have forgotten that it has been charged with proclaiming “the greatest story on earth” – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
God calls us to be the story tellers. But here’s the problem – we have relinquished that role to others. We let politicians and the secular press tell the story of the church, and they get it all wrong. We must reclaim the stories of faith and our role as the story tellers. But to be the Story tellers, we must first know the story. A recent survey indicated that more than 80% of those who are active in the church today are functionally illiterate when it comes to scripture. We’re not telling the stories, because we don’t know them and if we don’t know them, how can we expect them to impact those outside of the church? We need to know the stories. Immerse ourselves in God’s word and seek his revelation through our devotions and our prayer life. And we must reclaim our calling to be storytellers. And once we know them, we must not be afraid to proclaim it. For too long the Story of faith has been mired in the quagmire of “political correctness.” We are afraid that someone will be offended or put off by the truth of the gospel. And so we water it down to make it more acceptable.
Leonard Sweet in rather a harsh word says this:
Instead of trumpeting our tales or proclaiming our pedigree, the church has tried to become “current” and “relevant” by only addressing issues that make headline news and only using “politically correct” language. Our sense of past, of purpose, of possessing a unique history and heritage (and might I add story) has disappeared from too many of our congregations.
The stories of Jesus often stood counter to the culture of His day. Today He would be criticized for being out of touch and not culturally relevant. Much like the Pharisees of His day accused Him. And in response He said, “Let me tell you about a father who never gave up on and stopped loving his wandering son.” “Or let me tell you about a shepherd who cared so much about a lost sheep that he was willing to leave the rest of the flock and go find the one who is lost. ” “Or let me tell you about the hated enemy who found one of ours beaten and dying alongside the road, and stopped to care for him when none of us would.” Jesus didn’t care that His stories seemed out of touch with today’s culture. No Father would give his wanderlust infected younger son his share of the inheritance. No good shepherd would risk the entire flock for the sake of one lost sheep. But that’s what the heroes in Jesus’s stories did. Because you see His stories were Kingdom stories, and ever since Adam and Eve took a bite out of paradise, God’s Kingdom and human culture have not been in sync with one another. That’s really what God’s story that we call The Bible is all about, a people out of sync with God and God’s continuing efforts to reconcile us. And in spite of what the world says, it is the story that we must not be afraid to tell.
This summer we will be sharing once more some of Jesus’ stories around the Campfire. And we will do so with the hope and prayer that they will not only change and shape our life as they have for countless numbers through the centuries, but that also, in the telling and hearing, each one of us will hear the call to be His disciples , His storytellers for today, not afraid to share the stories of faith even when it seems that the world does not want to hear.
And so today we begin at the end. With the story of the Last Supper. This is the story that John tells that has been passed on for 2000 years and comes to us today. On his last night on this earth before his death on a Roman Cross, my friend Jesus gathered all of His closest friends, in a borrowed room because we really had no place else to gather in the city, to share one last meal together. He had been anxious that this evening go just as He had planned and made all of the arrangements himself. I got the sense that all of the days and nights of our three year journey had led to this night in that Upper Room. Already there had been a great deal of drama in the days immediately leading to this evening. The incredible parade where the people had proclaimed Him as King. And then there was the terrible scene in the Temple. I had never seen Him angry like that before as He threw out those He said were defiling His Father’s house by buying and selling in the Temple. I didn’t really understand it all, but I knew that there was going to be a price to be paid for that. He had become a wanted man. A couple of my friends had come to dinner in the middle of an argument about which of them were Jesus’ best friend. Which one would sit at the honored place at the table, next to Jesus. Imagine how surprised I was that He had reserved that spot for me. And then each one of the friends had settled into their spot at the table. Had found their name tag by their seat. I was on Jesus right side and Judas, who had been brooding for several days, was on His left. I guess Jesus must have thought by giving Judas a special place, he might help him get over whatever was weighing so heavy on him. So we all settled into our place. And while we were reclining around the table, Jesus had done a most unusual thing. In fact an unheard of thing for the host of the feast. He had stood up, went to the door way where a pitcher of water and towel had been left for a servant to wash all the feet of those who came for dinner that night. It was the custom, but there had not been a servant there to perform this menial task. And though all who gathered were really servants ourselves, none of us were willing to serve one another in this way. We were too proud I guess. Only Jesus was willing to claim the role of servant and so he started around the table, beginning with Judas and I in the places of honor. First me, then Judas, all the way around until he came to the last place at the table where Peter was sitting. Now I had seen Peter watching in amazement as Jesus had humbled himself and performed this menial task, and so he had plenty of time to feign humility for himself, and when Jesus reached down to take hold of his feet, he made a great show of resisting Jesus’ attempt to wash his feet. But the curious thing was that Peter did not offer to do it himself, or to wash Jesus’ feet in exchange. But then neither did any of the rest of us. In fact, Jesus had eaten His last meal with his feet caked with the dirt of humanity, and it was that which He took to the Cross just a few hours later. I suspect that if we had known that, we would have acted differently. I have so many regrets when it comes to Jesus. But the Roman guards would drive their spikes through the dirty feet of Jesus, because not one of His closest friends would take it upon themselves to wash His feet. After Jesus washed all of our feet, the passover meal was served. Each morsel recalled a part of the story of the exodus. As the host, as each part of the meal was served, Jesus told the story once again. I wonder if it was at the point of the story when the people had finally reached the border of the Promised Land, with Moses on the mountain, looking over the land but not allowed to cross into it after leading them there. Was it at that point that Judas had enough, and, to our surprise, rushed from the room. Angry, disillusioned, disappointed that Jesus had brought us this far, only to leave us to make our way on our own. I know Judas had hoped that Jesus would restore the promised land for the Jews. He told me that many times and we had come so far together, but there was yet so far to go and Jesus was not gonna go with us beyond this night. And so Judas left the honored seat at the feast to become the the most dishonored of all. He was really the first of us to truly understand what this night was all about. And after he left, I remember Jesus saying, “So how are we to make sense of all that has happened here tonight and all that will happen tomorrow.” And then he picked up a loaf of bread and He said, “it’s like this loaf of bread. Fresh from the oven, full of beauty and promise. But it’s not until it’s broken and shared among us that it fills us up, that it truly fulfills it’s purpose. Tonight, my body is like this unbroken loaf, full of beauty and promise, but tomorrow it will be broken and shared with the whole world as the sacrifice for the emptiness of their lives. When they feast on me, their lives will be filled to overflowing. ” And then He took the loaf and broke it into pieces, not just one piece, but enough for each one of us and He said “This is how my body will be tomorrow – broken for you and for everyone so that you may be forgiven and live forever.” And then He had poured wine into a cup and He said, “This wine is like my blood. It is the symbol of a new Covenant, like the Covenant with Jeremiah, between God and all people. When it is poured out, it washes you clean and soaks each person who receives with the love and grace of my Heavenly Father. So drink this now, all of it. Quench your thirst for righteousness forever.” And once each one of the now 11 of us had eaten our bread and drank from the cup, He said: “Now that you know the story, what this has all been about, remember it and share it every time you gather together and break the bread and taste the wine.” This then, is my story of Jesus. May all here come to the table and remember, and then go and share. Tell the story until everyone has had the chance to hear and know.