Telling Our Stories

A Sermon for Fifth Pentecost

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

Some of my favorite memories of my childhood were when I sat at the dining room table listening to my grandmother tell us stories from her life. My grandmother was a bit dramatic, so I was often mesmerized as I sat and listened to stories that I knew were filled with truth and some family lore. It was these stories that connected me, her young granddaughter to her, one generation to another. The stories had a lasting impression on me as I imagine they would for any child who sits at the feet of their grandparent, listening to every word.

I was reminded of my memories this past weekend when my family visited my in-laws in South Carolina. My father-in-law is in failing health and we wanted to all be together for Father’s Day. We gathered as a family and during one evening sitting outside on the patio, I watched my children listen to their grandparents share their stories with the younger generation. Stories about how they met, what it was like raising their children Kevin, Colleen and Timmy, their dad and aunt and uncle, who taught their granddad to golf, and the list went on. I realized as I sat there and listened, that I was witnessing the passing of family history from one generation to the next. I also knew that these stories would eventually be passed onto a generation yet to come, perhaps with a bit more embellishment.

And so it was with this weekend experience that I began to reflect on today’s Gospel reading from Luke. It is a story filled with lots of drama and action. Perhaps you even shuddered when you envisioned the image of the swineherd running down the steep embankment to their death. But interestingly, every time I read the passage, I didn’t turn to the drama of the story, but to the last few sentences of Luke’s passage:

The man from whom the demons were expelled begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

This was one of the several stories in the Luke’s Gospel where Jesus heals people of evil spirits and infirmities, showing the disciples and all who would listen, the good news of the Kingdom of God. As he comes to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, a gentile region, he is immediately approached by a man, clearly deranged, who has even broken from the chains that are meant to contain him, living naked among the tombs. The demons that possess the man recognize Jesus right away. They beg Jesus not be send them back to the abyss (or hell), but into the herd of pigs grazing nearby. Jesus does show compassion for the demons and transfers the spirits to the swineherd. When they are transferred, the pigs become crazed and they run wild, down a steep embankment into the water and to their death. And in their fear, the people order Jesus to leave their community immediately.

Think about it for a moment. Jesus, a Jew, comes into a community of gentiles, they witness one of their own be transformed at the expense of their livestock. Remember that this was a gentile community and pigs were the people’s livelihood, this was what they herded, just as the Jews herded sheep. What they experienced must have been scary, confusing and so beyond their comprehension that they froze in fear and responded by ordering Jesus to leave. Banishing him from their community they believed would help them shut out what they witnessed, allowing them to deny the transformation of one of their own.

But Jesus had a bigger plan for them and the changed man, instead of allowing him to join his band of disciples – which is what the man asks of Jesus, Jesus sends him back to his community to share his story. This forced the people to face what had happened preventing them from denying or discrediting Jesus. Until the people gained some distance from what they witnessed, the changed man was the only voice who could tell his story of how Jesus showed compassion and mercy for him, an outcast and a gentile.

Perhaps Jesus knew he would not be among the people for much longer; he needed to get his word out in ways that didn’t solely rely on him. He needed witnesses to proclaim the Good News and perhaps he knew they would be able to proclaim it better than he. By ordering the man to return to his community, that knew his story before he was saved by Jesus, was Jesus’s way of staying present with a community that wanted to shut him out of their lives.

And this is where we come in, my sisters and brothers, this is where the Gospel story touches our lives, right here at All Saints and in today’s greater world. I don’t know about you, but it is not enough for me to read the scriptures, find time for prayer, and reflect on my faith alone. I need you and others to help me gain a deeper understanding of and love for Jesus Christ. I need to hear your stories and for me to share mine so that each of us can experience the sense of the Holy Spirit. Stories that will become more than just words, they will become words filled with the opportunity for transformation – in small and large ways.

As we are in this interim period at All Saints’, it will be important for us to share our stories not only with each other but with our interim rector. By sharing our stories of faith we can begin to understand how our past connects to our present and eventually to our future. It will help us gain an understanding of who we want to be as a faith community moving forward.

Just as telling our stories is important, so is listening to the stories of others. It is a partnership, where everyone actively shares and actively listens. And through that telling and listening, I guarantee you will feel God’s grace among you.

As Paul Tillich, a 21st century theologian writes in his book “The Shaking of the Foundations”

“We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace. It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it.”

From my own experiences, it is not enough to say to one who is suffering, or questioning their faith, “Jesus loves you, it will be all right.” When I am scared, feeling alone, and feeling my faith is on shaky ground, it is the experiences of others – their stories of despair, of questioning, of transformation – that bring me the light of hope. As I have shared my faith journey with others, I sense that my words may bring clarity to their own story. My story doesn’t solve anything, but it may bring God’s light into our space and that is our chance where His presence can make a difference, even a difference just big enough to get through the next day.

We also have a responsibility to share our stories with others beyond the walls of this historic church. For some of us this isn’t easy, it isn’t for me. But just as we take time to share our family stories with the younger generation, why wouldn’t we share our stories of God’s love, faith and redemption and the impact it has had on our lives? From my own experiences, I have learned the more I share my story, the easier it becomes. When I first began to openly verbalize my sense of God’s call for me, I was brought to tears each time. Why, because it was so personal, so close to my heart. It was scary to share my inner feelings with others. Who would believe me; would they shake their head and walk away in disbelief? I never was sure when I would sit down with someone how they would react. I had to trust that God was present and that my words would rest gently on their ears through the grace of God.

And so my sisters and brothers in Christ – I ask you to take on a summer project. This assignment is yours alone, but if carried out, can transform the lives of others – here in our faith community, and out in the larger world. Think about your faith story, or think about a time when you felt God’s presence – even for a moment, reflect on that over the summer and begin to share it with others. Start small, perhaps with your grandchildren or your grandparents, but start.

We are not just called by God to keep our faith to ourselves or within our own community. We are called by God to bring our faith to the world, now and always. Jesus had a plan for the demonic man he made well and he has a plan for us too and we won’t know that plan if we don’t step forward in faith and share our stories. After all, if we don’t share our stories, who will fill the void left by our silence?

Amen.

—Nancy Hennessey
June 23, 2013