Filed under: Sermons | Tags: Buddhism, Cairo, Egypt, India, Islam, Jesus, story, Thailand
There’s something special about stories. We all seem to be drawn to stories. We tell stories of our life adventures. We learn who we are as individuals, and especially this year, as a church, as we retell the stories of our ancestors. Sometimes I think we associate the word “story” with “fiction”, but I’m not using it in that way today. The stories I’m talking about are those that give us identity and purpose. Like the stories that the writer of the Gospel of John compiled, stories that were meant to give readers and listeners the ability to believe in Jesus, and so to have life in Jesus.
When I was a little girl, I lived in a small town in southern Wisconsin. It was the town my father had grown up in, where my parents met during high school. My grandmother lived only about 6 blocks from our house. On a nice day, I would walk or bike over to see her.
My family wasn’t especially religious. After a pastor my parents liked left our church, we became holiday worshippers. From time to time, I would go with my grandmother to worship at her church.
Grams is a PK, a pastor’s kid. Her father was a Methodist minister out in Minnesota at the turn of the last century. She grew up steeped in the Christian story, and continues to share it today.
Her story has played a pivotal role in my own faith story. Our stories aren’t just shared in words, but in action, in interactions. When I was young and stayed with her during the day, I would join her as she lived out her Christian story. We would hop into her little car, bright orange and browns in true 70s style, and bring meals to the shut-ins in our town. When I was older, we would visit at the nursing home together. I remember once going on a fieldtrip to some gardens. There was my Grams, pushing along residents probably older than herself, pointing out the beautiful flowers to celebrate. She taught me to love others, because God loves us all.
The story the disciples share with us today stems from their direct contact with Jesus. They are the ones who had the joy of following in his footsteps, witnessing his miracles, putting hands into the wounds of his suffering, feeling the breath of new life against their skin.
They’re the ones who are perfectly qualified to share the stories of Jesus’ teaching. But in today’s gospel, we meet them locked away, afraid for their lives. That’s hardly a position from which to share the good news! Jesus comes to them, in their fear, to give them God’s peace and to breathe on them the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will empower them to break out of that room, to share the story, and for some, even to face a martyr’s death.
It is because the Spirit led them out into the world, to share their stories of Jesus, that we know this gospel today. As Pastor Bitner talked about last week, they were the ones who experienced the resurrected Jesus, right there, in front of them! This was amazing news to share!
But the story didn’t stop with those first 12 disciples. God was at work in the sharing of this story. The Spirit was with Jesus’ disciples, and also came to those of different languages and nations. At one point in time, a group of people collected all the written down stories about God, prayed about which ones best revealed God, and compiled them all in our Holy Bible. Which is great, right, because now we have this book we can hold in our hands, words which, as Luther described, are the cradle of Christ. Today, most of us have easy access to the Bible in our preferred language. Awesome, right? The Word of God, in our humble hands!
The danger we face with the availability of Scripture, is in looking only to its pages to find Christ. Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed)! Christ is not bound in these pages, but present among us today. I know I was not among those first disciples who were able to put fingers in Jesus’ wounded hands and side. But I see Christ through others, and the Spirit convicts me when I hear witness of the gospel in the story of another.
I enjoyed the opportunity to travel while I was in college. I studied in Egypt for a while, a land with a rich religious heritage. Ancient Egyptian religion left the pyramids, modern Muslims continue to worship in beautiful mosques. Every day, I heard the call to prayer echoing off the dusty streets of the city. I was humbled and moved by the dedication of those practicing daily prayer in home, school, and mosque. In Thailand, I sat with Buddhist monks and learned of the importance of mediating away from my self-centeredness. Indian temples, swathed and scented with garlands of bright flowers, witnessed to the sensory gifts of God.
Throughout my journey, I wondered, why was it that I was a Christian? Was it only a coincidence of birth? It really came down to story. It is the Christian story into which I have been drawn. Our story is one of a God who created all, who does not abandon it, but who enters into relationship with creation, with us. Whose relationship is so strong, that God became as one of us so that we might know God. Whose love is so deep, that Jesus died so that we would never be without that love. Whose connection to us continues today. The Spirit has fixed the Gospel in my heart and made God known through it.
The Gospel story is told throughout the nations. From the little Lutheran church, St. Andrew’s, in Cairo where I worshipped, where Sudanese refugees were also finding shelter and good news, to the Christian Church in Whitefield, India, where the fruits of harvest were shared and dedicated to God, to us gathered here in Rockford from our various homes, the Gospel story is lived out.
Today, Amanda shares a piece of her story. We rejoice with her that she has found faith through this community and through others who have shared with her their stories of faith. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Faith is possible through this God who overcomes death and fear. The story is being told to you, you are empowered to share it!