Sunday, November 29, 2009

Telling the story

Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

This is a tome for telling stories. In the stores, as soon as the Halloween merchandise goes on sale, the Christmas merchandise appears. By now the stores are full of decorations, gift-wrap, holiday sweaters, and Black Friday deals. The day after Halloween, radio stations began playing Christmas music. Houses, stores, and streets are decorated for the holidays. There are Christmas themed movies and programs on TV and at the theaters. Countless books tell the stories of Christmas and the people who learned – or didn’t learn – the lessons of Christmas. These all tell the story of Christmas from different aspects.
In the church, we tell the stories, too. The Bible records the story of God’s relationship with God’s people, from creation to the future. Everything we read in scripture reminds us that our God wants a relationship with us, a relationship in which God is given high priority in our lives and hearts. Repeatedly, the Bible records stories of how God’s people don’t always put God first.
In the Old Testament, when the relationship with God gets really strained, it seems God sent warnings through the Prophets, to call the people to repent and turn their hearts back to God. God also sent promises when circumstances seemed to be at their worst. God will never abandon God’s people, no matter what they do, and good things will come!
In the New Testament, God first sent the Son, to speak God’s heart directly, to tell God’s story in the first person. After Jesus, God used humans to send letters to the people, reminding them of Jesus’ message of God’s love and forgiveness. The Gospels, Acts, and the Letters tell the story of God’s relationship with us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Each year at appointed times, we tell the stories of Christmas, and the stories of Holy Week and Easter. Each year, we hear the stories of God’s call to us to make sure our focus is in the right place – on our relationship with God. Each year we hear the warnings and the promises spoken through Jesus, and through God’s many messengers. But, do we hear and pay attention to the warnings and promises? Or do we ignore them, and go about our daily lives as if they didn’t matter?
Mike and I both love Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” We have several film versions on tape and DVD. And, of course, we have already seen the latest film version at the theater. Dickens is such a masterful story-teller, his story about Ebenezer Scrooge is timeless.
You may recall that Scrooge was a miserly old man, who had little regard for anyone but himself and his obsession of saving money. Poor people should be sent to the jails or the work-houses. His faithful clerk, Bob Cratchitt, never gave up on him, and neither did his nephew, Fred. They both encouraged him to take some time off, to be with family and enjoy the gift and message of Christmas. But, his comment was always, “Bah! Humbug!”
In the story, four messengers appear to him: first, his deceased partner, and then the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Scrooge does hear the message carried by these spirits, and repents. In the last scenes of the story, he sends food and gifts to Cratchitt’s family, makes sure their son Tiny Tim gets medical care, and joins his nephew at their Christmas celebration.
While Dickens spends little ink on the faith aspect of the story, it is evident in the presence of members of the community seeking gifts for the needy, and in the call for social justice and mercy for all people. It is obviously a story about the need for repentance and a new way of living.
A couple of weeks ago, we read and I preached on a portion of Mark’s version of this Gospel text, now taken from Luke. This text uses changes in nature as the signs of the coming of God’s kingdom. Yet, it comes with a confused timing. This generation will not pass away;, heaven and earth will pass away. So, Jesus, we want to ask – just when is the Kingdom of God coming? Or, has it already come?
And the answer to that is – Yes. We live in an already-not yet time. The reign of God has come; Jesus’ death and resurrection has proven that death is not the final word – the end of our lives in relationship with God. Yet, if this is how God reigns, we’re suffering a lot more than we thought we would!
Jesus has a clue for us, though. He wants us to tell the story – his words will not pass away! So, be careful that you are not distracted by worldly cares, and be on guard to keep your focus on Jesus. Hear the warnings – we tell the stories every year, so we can hear them over and over again. And hear the promises. God-with-us – Emmanuel – has come to dwell with us on earth, never to leave us.
Jesus tells us we are not to be afraid; we are to stand with our heads up, and face the coming of the Son of Man with faith and hope, because we have already been redeemed through his life, death, and resurrection. We can tell the story of how our God defeated the powers of this world for our benefit.
And, since we are Jesus’ hands and feet and mouths – God’s stand-ins, as Desmond Tutu has called us – let us be about telling the story of God’s promises of love and forgiveness. Let’s tell the story in as many ways as we can. We can use words, and decorations, and gifts, and loving relationships, and music to tell the story.
And we can tell the story with our presence in Dunnellon, and as we hand out Angel Food boxes to those in our neighborhood, and as we bring in food for the food pantries, and as we visit the homebound and ill members and friends of the congregation, and as we host three scout groups each week, and as we make quilts and fill shoeboxes and ship them off to help the needy in other places.
Your challenge this week is twofold:
Pay attention to your response to the warnings and promises in Scripture. Do you hear them, and heed them, as Scrooge heeded the warnings of the spirits who came to him? Or do you disregard them and think they are intended for someone else? Can you remember a time in your own life when you were forced to repent and get refocused? Did God have anything to do with that? Have you told someone that story?
And, watch to see how many ways you tell the story of Jesus. Do you buy gifts, because you love someone? Do you share what God has given you with those who have less? Do you seek the opportunity to tell someone why you go to church – telling them your story?
Please pray with me. O Lord, we read story after story of your love for us, through warnings and promises. Help us to hear your story and what it means for our lives; and help us to share your story with someone who needs to hear the promises are for them as well as for us. Amen