Over the last couple of years, I have been participating in something called “The Bible Challenge.” A number of congregations here in the Diocese of Chicago are doing this, and it has really taken off around The Episcopal Church, nationally. The Bible Challenge is simply this: to read the entire Bible through in one year!
That sounds like a daunting task, but if you read three chapters from the OT, one Psalm, and one chapter from the N.T. each day, you can get it done…in one year. That’s not an insignificant amount of reading but perhaps not much more than if you were reading a good novel or doing some homework for school or work. And, if you have a good, modern, readable translation of the Bible, it’s really pretty easy to do.
I hadn’t read the Bible through like that for many years, instead relying on the daily Readings from Morning and Evening Prayer and the Sunday lectionary to keep me in “the Word” on a regular basis. And those readings do indeed do that. But, reading the Bible straight through, without jumping around, and leaving out some parts, has re-introduced me to the power of Story. The wonderful Stories contained in the Bible.
Stories are great teaching techniques. The prophets were master story tellers – beginning with the Prophet Nathan in our First Lesson today. Israel’s great King David was a flawed leader (as so many of our leaders have been throughout history!). One of his more notorious sins was basically kidnapping another man’s wife, marrying and having a child with her, and then ordering the man’s murder to cover up his sin!
The prophet Nathan knew that if he confronted David directly, he would probably share the same fate as the murdered man, Uriah. So he tells the wonderful story in our First Lesson today about the rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb in order to feed it to one of his guests. Seeing the obvious injustice and cruelty of this act, David says, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die…” (2 Samuel 11)
Seeing that the King has snatched the bait, Nathan quickly sets the hook, “You are the man!” the prophet snaps. And, now that David had indicted himself out of own mouth, Nathan confronts him directly with his sin, bringing him to his knees in repentance.
Jesus tells a similar story in our Gospel reading for today. A “holier than thou” Pharisee is offended that Jesus accepts the love and the tears of a woman whose reputation in the community left something to be desired! Sensing the Pharisee’s disgust, Jesus seizes the initiative and launches off into a story:
“So, a certain credit agency made two loans,” Jesus begins, “one for 500 the other for 50. Turns out neither borrower could pay up, so he wrote both debts off. Which debtor do you think will be most grateful, Simon?”
“I guess the one whose debt was greater and therefore was forgiven more,” answered the Pharisee. “Right, and that’s the point, my friend!” That’s why this woman is so grateful – because “her sins, which were many, have been forgiven, so she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” That’s why she’s grateful to God. And you’re not!
Can you imagine the tension in that room?
Stories are great teaching tools. They’re easy to pay attention to. Easy to grasp…but they can contain a hidden meaning…like the great fairy tales…the “moral” of the story, if you will. Well, some of us are better story tellers than others. But all of us have a story. It’s the story of our lives. And…all of us have a faith story. At least all of us who are in this church today!
It doesn’t have to be dramatic (although I’ll bet some of your stories are!). But you have led a life. And something in that life has led you here to St. John’s this morning. Maybe you just grew up in the church and this is just part of your normal routine. Maybe you found this church after a period of searching. Maybe you came here in a time of stress and strain in your life. Or, you came here to give thanks for something.
Maybe you love the liturgy and the music. Maybe you enjoy the friendship and fellowship you found here. Maybe you participate in some outreach program (like the Crop Walk for Church World Service) as a way of giving back to the community. The stories in this room are as varied as the people in it! But telling “your story” to another person may just be what that person needs to take a step back toward the Church…and toward the life of faith.
Years ago, the Episcopal Church’s evangelism office put out a colorful poster. It looked like the drawing of a chalice when you first looked at it. But it was one of those optical illusions and, when you looked again, it was a picture of two faces, in profile, talking to one another. And the three words beneath the picture were these: Go…Listen…Tell. It was a way of demonstrating how simple evangelism…and sharing our faith…is.
Go outside the doors of this church after the Liturgy this morning. Go into your homes and neighborhoods and schools and workplaces this week. And then…Listen! Don’t talk so much. Listen! Listen to your friends and your family as they speak of their struggles and confusion…of their joys and their sorrows…of their pain and their blessings. Really Listen to these people…and try to relate to what they are saying.
Then – and only then – tell! Tell them your story. Tell them how you got through something like what they’re going through. Tell them how happy you were when something like they are describing happened to you. And, when you feel it’s appropriate, tell them how God was part of all that for you. How God’s Church was there for you when you needed it. How God’s people have walked with you through the good times and the bad.
Tell them about St. John’s, and invite them here…to discover for themselves…how their stories can connect to God’s story. Go…Listen…Tell. If all of you start doing that every week, dear friends, this church will never be the same!