We are in the middle of a sermon series at my church just now and we are concentrating on mission and evangelism. I was privileged to be given the chance to preach this morning and I thought I would share with you the text of my talk (more or less) as I delivered it.
MAY MY WORDS BE SPOKEN AND HEARD IN THE NAME OF THE RISEN CHRIST JESUS, AMEN
|Readings: 1 Peter 3: 8 – 22 & John 4: 1 – 30|
“I wanna tell you a story”. A stoooooory. I think it was Max Bygraves who said that and I think he was on to something.
Stories are what make us human. They are absolutely integral to the experience of being a human being, and stories have knitted us together since the dawn of time. Our early ancestors shared stories to educate each other and to entertain each other, and the tradition of storytelling is central to every civilisation. When we talk about our past we talk about history – his story. Our stories are ways of sharing who we are.
We tell stories all the time, and by stories I want to make it clear that I don’t mean lies, or fabricated versions of the truth. That’s a different thing, and something that Peter reminds us of in our first reading today. Verse 10 – I’ll paraphrase “if you want to enjoy life and wish to see good times, you must keep from speaking evil and stop telling lies.”
A story is different. We all hear them, tell them, and we all have one. The urge to tell a story is right there at our very core. It’s how we share our lives, our concerns, our dreams, our hopes. But for some reason, many of us feel that when it comes to telling the story of our faith, we have some sort of a barrier or reluctance to tell it to others.
You may know that I am currently studying for my Master’s degree. I’m nearly at the end of my first year now, and my studies are all about the art of storytelling, whether it’s my own creations or other’s work. I am studying the way stories are told in books and short stories and those in film and plays. One of the things we talk about (and argue about) is the how of storytelling. Nobody argues that there is a need to tell them, but there are millions of opinions and interpretations of the best way to do it. It falls broadly into two categories, we can either tell stories or we can show them. The best novels and films do a bit of both and it is a balancing act every single time, but it’s something we can learn from when it comes to telling the story of our selves and our faith.
To illustrate what I mean, here’s a short clip of how actions speak louder than words. I want you to pay attention to what you pick up about his character from the way he acts this scene:
I showed a clip of a scene from “Frasier” where Niles was alone in the apartment waiting for his Valentine’s date. He spots an odd wrinkle on his trousers and decides to correct it by ironing it and then follows one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen on TV. There is no dialogue, only a music soundtrack and the odd word from him and a couple of barks from Eddie the dog. As the scene progresses we see Niles cut his finger, spill some cleaning fluid, set fire to his pants and then eventually set fire to the settee while Eddie enjoys the romantic meal Niles had cooked for his date. [I don’t want to risk any copyright issues by sharing the clip online].
I wonder when it comes to sharing your story with others, where do you stand on the spectrum of showing or telling? Not everyone is comfortable or confident in telling, but as disciples of Christ, the absolute very least we can do, is the showing bit.
I was invited to St Mary’s last Sunday to speak to the congregation there about my musical journey and how it intersects with my faith. I spoke about the small words of encouragement I received at vital times and how it didn’t really take a lot for a small seed of interest to blossom into this passion for music that I have held throughout my life. I find it so easy to talk about music – where it has taken me, the sights I’ve seen, the people I have met and so on, and I can talk for hours about what music does to me in terms of it being a prayerful activity, both playing it and listening to it. And yet, and yet, as confident as I am about talking about music and prayer, it seems that when it comes to talking about my faith journey it is so much more difficult. I get a bit embarrassed, I filter my own words before I speak, I try to pre-empt what people are going to think – especially if they are strangers and I don’t know what their reaction is going to be. When I think about the times I have felt the presence of God, when I know he has brought me through something particularly frightening or bleak, and I think about how to tell those stories, those filters that I apply to myself come into play. At best I think they’ll be bored and worst I think they’ll think I’m a nutter. Like in the bandroom, the word “Jesus”, if I say it out loud, seems to hover in mid-air for ages and sticks out like a sore thumb.
I will be a fluent faith story teller one day, but for now I’m still very much a work in progress.
Jesus himself told stories. He used parables – a type of story – to describe what God’s kingdom is like. We all know them: the kingdom of God is like this (buried treasure, a mustard seed, wise and foolish builders, the Samaritan).
So what about your story? Only you can tell it, only you has the words to share your story.
You might wonder what it is about your story that’s worth sharing. You might be sat there thinking – well I’m nothing special, nothing dramatic has happened in my life. You might think that it’s only people who have done the whole crash and burn and reborn thing that are worth listening to, or that people who have done the brave battles with major health problems or addiction for example that have a worthy story to tell.
But that’s just not true. We all have a story! We are all part of God’s wonderful creation and we all have faith in him. We must do, or we wouldn’t be here today. We might not feel like our faith is big enough or deep enough, but I assure you it is. Your personal story is part of God’s bigger one, and though may feel it is insignificant or even perhaps too broken to be part of God’s story, then think again. We are all part of this huge ongoing, unfolding story and the more we share it, the bigger it gets and the easier it gets to share.
We have to do it – we are commanded to do it. Jesus himself tells us to go out and share the good news. He told the Samarian woman at the well to go back and tell the others about her encounter with him, and he tell us the same thing. She felt that her life was doomed – with five husbands and being a Samaritan not a Jew, she felt unworthy, unloved, apart from things. But Jesus’ gift is not to set us apart but to make us a part of his story. To include and to enfold us, no matter how we feel our lives are going or where we have been.
It seems like a daunting task doesn’t it? To actively go out there to show and tell people that we are faithful followers of Christ, but we have to do it. Just as Niles couldn’t help but show us his character through his actions with his trousers, we can’t help but show our Christian character to the people around us. But, like in the silent movies of yesteryear, showing people is only still part of it. We do have to add words to our actions. Charlie Chaplin, that great silent storyteller of the early 20th Century, even he had to use cue cards every now and again to help the audience understand his story. Even he, the best silent movie star ever, had to rely on words. And so must we when we show/tell the story of our faith.
We do gain from the experience though, it’s not just a one way outpouring of “self” when we share our story. When we begin to open up about our faith and when we allow God to be reflected in our lives, it does a couple of significant things. First of all, it strengthens our own faith. I suppose you could look at it like practicing a musical instrument, or when you learn a foreign language or a new skill. The more you do it the easier it becomes and it in turn enriches your life and you want to do more of it. The same with sharing faith. It might feel difficult or daunting to begin with, but the more you do it the easier you will find it. After all, you are only ever being you.
The other thing is that when people see you reflecting God’s kingdom in your own life, whether it is through your actions or by the words you use, or the combination of both, it invites them in and offers them pathways to encounter God for themselves. For me, that is the whole point of mission, to invite others in for them to encounter God for themselves.
So to finish, your story matters, and the way that you share your story is down to you.
However we do it – whether it is the quiet ways of living our lives and the way we treat other people; our hospitality in the truest sense of the word, the way we turn from evil, the way we seek peace, showing that we are not afraid, by being gentle and respectful in accepting God’s will, even if it does mean great suffering, or whether it’s through a combination of words and actions, however we do it, we must do it. Peter laid it all out for us, and not only does he list the how of sharing our story, he reminds us of the why.
Christ suffered, not for his sins, but for ours. He was put to death so that we might live. That’s why we share God’s – and our own – story. It’s up to you how you balance your show and tell, but you can’t do all one and not the other. Going back to the clip we just watched, there is the use of music, the dog barks warnings, there is the odd word here and there. When it comes to telling our story, we have to use whatever tools or props we have to hand in the telling of it.
· We are convinced much more by stories than arguments
· Your own story is powerful and meaningful, because
o it supports your own faith
o it invites others to share your faith