Show Us the Way . . .
Where did you learn the stories of the Bible? Did you learn them in Sunday school? Maybe you learned them while reading the bible at home when you were growing up, or on your own as an adult. I learned the story of Moses and the exodus from the movie, The Ten Commandments. I was shocked to later discover that a lot of what I retained from the film was not actually part of the Bible story and that Moses probably did not look like Charlton Heston at all.
There’s a quote that is tacked up beside my desk at home. It’s a quote from the poet and novelist, Margaret Atwood:
There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story—which is part of the story too.
Our scripture today, the story of Abraham and Sarah and The Great Family is the very first story we tell using the desert box in a Godly Play classroom. We begin by introducing the dangers of the desert. In the daytime, it is hot and in the night, it is cold. When the wind blows, the shape of the desert can change. It is easy to lose your way. People do not go into the desert unless they have to.
Abraham and Sarah have made their way, following God’s call, to Haran and then across the desert to Hebron where they made their home. Then something extraordinary happens. God calls Abraham out under the night sky. Then God comes so close to Abraham and Abraham comes so close to God that Abraham knows what God is saying. “You will become the father of a great family and Sarah will be the mother. The members of the great family will become as many as there are stars in the sky and grains of sand in the desert.”
God’s promise sounded impossible. Abraham and Sarah were too old, but they trusted God and they believed God’s promise. Then Isaac was born and married Rebekah and the great family began. That’s the way we tell the story in a Godly Play classroom, but, of course, we know there is much more to the story. Abraham and Sarah grow impatient. Abraham has a child with Hagar. Sarah grows jealous and casts Hagar and the child out. This part, the messy middle of the story, is the part we leave out when we tell the story to children.
I don’t know about you, but this is where I most often find myself; in this messy middle of impatience and comparison and jealousy. But, in spite of Abraham and Sarah’s human frailties and impatience and wrong turns and cruelty and mistakes, in spite of their sins—they become the mother and father of the great family. This is a story of God’s promise kept despite all that happens in the messy middle.
The story we find ourselves moving through during Lent, Jesus’ birth, life, work, crucifixion, death, and eventual resurrection is also a story of God keeping God’s promise. God sent a messiah who was not the kind of messiah the people expected, but saved them anyway.
These stories help us understand the way God is at work in our lives. And stories are how we make meaning of our lives: the story of the day you were born, the story of how you met, the story of the day your grandmother died, the story of your wedding day . . . We weave our lives from these stories.
Our faith is built on stories. Picture book bible stories, Sunday school stories, stories of questioning and faith we hear as teenagers and young adults, the stories we all carry of joy and celebration, miracles and missed opportunities, heartbreak and loss. That columbarium is filled with stories; stories that it is now our job to tell. Stories are the foundation of our faith. And perhaps, the most powerful thing we can give to each other is our stories.
I am standing here today because of the stories you have given me. Your stories of wondering and doubt. Your stories of faith and courage in the face of loss. Your story of getting up and showing up, whether it is in these pews or on Zoom, for prayers and sacraments, worshiping in front of a screen on Sunday morning because you are still showing up to do the work of the church, what Paul calls the “joyful work of worship.” That is your story, friends. And watching you live out that story has been a beautiful and holy thing to see.
Let’s tell our stories, the stories of our life together at Laurel Heights. May we share them with glad hearts, for it is these very stories that bind us together, the great family, the gospel story of Jesus, your story, my story, these stories make us who we are: the people of God.
The Godly Play story of the Great Family closes with these words:
And now you are a part of that great family that has become as many as the stars in the sky and grains of sand in the desert.
May it be so. Amen.