Tell the Story
Holy Covenant UMC
September 12, 2010
Rev. Kate Hurst Floyd
Is there a story you love to tell?
Perhaps it was a fairytale your parents told you as a child…and before you could read yourself you had the details memorized..you could mouth the words as your parents turned the page of a book. There was a girl named Goldilocks who entered the house of three bears; she ate their porridge, and one bowl was too cold, one too hot, and one just right; she sat in their chairs, one was too hard, one was too soft, and one was just right; …Now this story is one you find yourself repeating to your children or nieces and nephews…
We love tell stories when we gather together with our families. My grandmother likes to tell the very same story every time we gather for holidays…thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter… add that up, over my lifetime I’ve heard it roughly 80 times. When she was first engaged to my grandfather, he brought her to dinner at his aunt and uncle’s home, where he lived in high school after his parents died. They set the table with fancy china and crystal and she was nervous about using the right spoon and fork. But they were kind and gracious to her and she was feeling more comfortable as they sat down to eat. Then, however, Aunt Kate, a staunch Southern Baptist, looked at the table and said “everyone share a memorized Bible verse”. As you can imagine, she was panicked. Did she have one memorized? She was a Presbyterian after all…and she was also livid…my grandfather hadn’t given her any warning that this was a nightly ritual. When they came to her the only thing she could think to say was: Jesus Wept.
And then when it came to my grandfather’s Uncle Alva, he said, as he said every night of his life: Wives obey your husbands. And Aunt Kate, as she did, every night of her life, quipped back: husbands love your wives. This scene is embedded into our family’s history and memory.
Stories help define us and name truths. Even those fairy tales, though fiction, stay with us and name something real about the world: as we grow we recognize there are people who are never satisfied (always too hot, always uncomfortable, always complaining about the political party in power..never happy). We hope we don’t find ourselves ungrateful. And we learn that different people have different needs and wants and places of comfort.
And we hear those family stories so often that we know they are not entirely factual (especially when a crucial fact shifts each time it’s told)—but something about the telling, the familiarity, how it describes the rules in our family systems, remains true. It is true that we value gathering around a meal; true that scripture has grounded our family for generations; true that we have feisty women in our history who won’t let men have the last word. And when we hear the story, we remember that there was a time when my grandparents were new to each other and figuring out life together. The story is true, whether it’s entirely factual or not.
We like to think of stories as having a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end, with an obvious moral or takeaway. The three bears is a classic example, as are those that get told over family dinners.
Stories can provide comfort, shape us, and help us recall joy-filled times in our lives. But as we live into the stories of our lives, not fairy tales, but the real grit and struggle and messiness of life, we know that there are other stories that shape us and aren’t so happy …Maybe it’s a painful experience from your past that has come to define who you are. The story about how your dad left when you were 9, or your parents haven’t spoken to you in 5 years, or you treated your best friend horribly and don’t know if you can ever come to a place of reconciliation, the year your sister died of cancer….
We wonder, will these stories ever stop having a hold on us? Will they end? Why did they begin? Are we forever living in the middle or will we find some clear resolution, some purpose?
What story do we tell about our lives? And at the end of the day, what about them are true?
The Psalm we heard this morning is one way to encounter this question. The Book of Psalms is the prayer book in the Bible, the book of hymns. They are poems and songs, meant to be recited and sung out loud when the community gathered together to worship. The Psalms are my favorite book in all of the Bible because they express the range of human emotion. They give us permission, in our faith journeys, to be fully honest with God—when we’re feeling angry, sad, or worn out….we know from the Psalms that we are safe to express these emotions to God. Crying out, with the Psalmist, why are you abandoning me? Where are you God? Why did my sister die? Why am I so alone? Why? Where are you? We don’t have to hide our painful stories from God, even and especially when we are worshiping. We stand with Jews and Christians over thousands of years who have asked these same questions, sharing their own stories and searching for God.
This morning, our Psalm, Psalm 66, is all about worshiping God.
The Psalm begins:
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of God’s name;
give to God glorious praise.
Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you,
sing praises to your name.’
It’s beautiful! Imagine if we each began our day by singing this song of praise!
But when our stories are difficult, when we’re in the middle of our pain without clear resolution or an obvious moral or end in sight, it’s not so easy to pop out of bed singing like a bird at the first dawn. In fact, our first reaction is probably to shut that bird out of our room and pull the covers back over our heads. We don’t want to hear a joyful noise, much less make one.
But before we dismiss this Psalm as too Pollyannaish, let’s keep moving through it.
Come and see what God has done:
God is awesome in deeds among mortals.
God turned the sea into dry land;
they passed through the river on foot.
There we rejoiced in the One,
who rules by might for ever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations—
let the rebellious not exalt themselves.
Come and see what God had done! The invitation is not to a blind worship without knowing God…the invitation is to listen and remember God’s story. We make a joyful noise, not because our lives are perfect or happy in this particular moment, but because we remember who God is. We come and see what God has done: The Psalmist tells the story of God…a God who saved us from captivity, from slavery in Egypt, by parting the red sea and leading the people to the promised land…their feet didn’t even get wet as they walked to safety. The Psalmist remembers the story of Exodus, how God promised to save us and then delivered on that promise. And so we praise God.
We make a joyful noise because we remember what God has done for us and are confident God will do the same in the future.
And this is what happens when we gather together for worship, week after week, month after month, year after year: We remember God’s story and tell it to one another. And we do that by bringing our own stories to this sanctuary, week after week, and paying attention to how they are an integral part of God’s story.
When we’re grieving over a loved one, we remember that Jesus, too, wept when Lazarus died, and we are not alone in our grief. And we remember that God promises us eternal life, so that death isn’t the end for the one we mourn. ..
When we are ashamed of something we’ve done, we remember that God sent Jesus to forgive us and that we are set free from guilt and sin. We share in the communion meal, remembering that Jesus forgives us and calls us to be part of the one body of Christ, no matter what we’ve done.
When we’re too consumed with ourselves, we remember that God calls us to care for the widow and the orphan, that Jesus commands us to give of what we have to the poor, and so we share offerings.
When we are feeling self-doubt and loneliness, we sing about God’s unconditional love, remembering that we are indeed loved, unconditionally, by the God who came to us in Jesus Christ, and that nothing in all creation can separate us from that love.
Wherever we are in the stories of our own lives, we come to worship to remember that God’s story defines us. That God is the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega. That what feel like beginnings and endings in our own lives don’t stand up to the eternal hope we find in Jesus Christ.
This fall, at Holy Covenant, we are telling stories: God’s stories and our stories, recognizing where they intersect. And this begins in worship: The space where we sing stories of God’s grace, offer ourselves as gifts, hear God’s story in Scripture, and go out seeking peace and justice. As part of our worship services this fall, we will be hearing testimonies, from people in our congregation, who are sharing where their stories and God’s story intersect. The more we tell, the more we listen, the greater the story becomes.
You have in front of you Covenant Cards that you received at the door with your bulletin. I invite you, this fall, to consider covenanting to live into God’s story by really participating in the life of the community by worshiping regularly and thinking about who you can invite to come with you, attending a small group (whether that’s one newcomers group or an in-depth Bible study) and engaging in a mission and justice event monthly.
For when we remember God’s story, we remind ourselves that we are characters in the divine drama. Everyone of us…whether it’s your first time at Holy Covenant or church at all or you’ve been coming for years…every single one of us is a vital part of God’s story. Our stories are God’s stories and we are called to live them and share them. To tell God’s truth along with our own.
When we gather here, week after week, we remember that we worship a God who promises, promises to never ever let us go. Who covenants to hold onto us with unconditional love in this life and in the next. Not even death can separate us from God’s love, who defeated death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we worship, we remember the truth that God is narrating the greatest story ever told and we are characters in this story.
And when we remember, we have hope. And when we are a people who live with hope, we can’t help but make a joyful noise in all that we do, wherever we go.
So let us go out of here singing, worshiping, and telling God’s story. Amen.