Lessons for Proper 7A: Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; and, Matthew 10:24-39.
I love a good story! And I love all kinds of stories: the kind that are told in books and the kind that unfold on screen; made-up stories that reveal deep truths and historically accurate stories about the journey of life and the human condition. I love all kinds of stories but my favorite kinds of stories are those stories that people tell about themselves, about their own life and love and hope, about their own joys and sorrows, about the relationships they have on their own journey. I think that you probably know the stories that I’m talking about! They’re the stories that are told around the dinner table when the family gets together – the story about uncle Rocco’s first date with Aunt Jenny that you’ve heard a hundred times but is still fresh because it’s still a lived story on their journey. They’re the stories told over a whiskey on a porch – the story of dad teaching you how to use the tools on his workbench though he didn’t really use those tools for much more than building a birdhouse in Cub Scouts. They’re the stories retold at weddings, at baptisms, and maybe even at funerals because they connect us more deeply to each other in the moment.
One of my favorite projects is an experiment in storytelling called StoryCorps. StoryCorps was founded by Dave Isay in 2003 when, in New York’s Grand Central Terminal, he created a quiet place where a person could honor someone who mattered to them by telling their story. StoryCorps has since evolved into the single largest collection of human voices ever recorded. The mission of StoryCorps is defined on their website,
StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.
We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations. (https://storycorps.org/about/)
The idea for StoryCorps came about in 1998 as Isay was making a documentary about the last flophouse hotels on the Bowery on the southern end of Manhattan. Men would stay in these cheap hotels for decades, living in tiny cubicles demarcated with chicken wire. Isay wrote a book about the men who lived there. On one occasion, Isay recalls showing an early version of the book to one of the men in the flophouse. As he flipped to a particular page in the book, the man just stood there for a minute staring in silence. Then, that man grabbed the book out of Isay’s hands and started running down the long, narrow hallway holding it over his head. “I exist! I exist,” he proclaimed.
This experience became Isay’s motivation for StoryCorps and “I exist” became its clarion call. So, in 2003 a booth was built in Grand Central Terminal where anyone could honor someone by interviewing them about their life. StoryCorps has worked to shine a light on people who are rarely heard from. The simple act of being interviewed has meant so much to people, particularly those who had been told that their stories didn’t matter. “Their backs straighten,” Isay would recall, “as they started to speak into the microphone.”
This is the human experience: To be known and to tell our story is something we long for. We are hardwired to create and tell stories.
TELL IT IN THE LIGHT
The lesson from Matthew’s gospel that we heard this morning comes from the middle of Jesus’ sending instruction about the disciples’ mission. These verses follow instructions to the disciples:
As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.Matthew 10:7-8
And then Jesus instructs them about what to take (or rather what not to take) on their mission:
Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff.Matthew 10:9-10a
It is a discourse on the realities the disciples’ mission, what they will encounter in the world, and how to react. Jesus then says to them (this is what we heard this morning):
So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.Matthew 10:26-31
Jesus, it seems, also loves stories. Or, more specifically, Jesus loves the stories that we tell about our life with God in Jesus Christ. You see, flowing from his heritage, Jesus knows that telling our stories and listening deeply to the stories of others is holy and transformative. Here, as Jesus prepares the disciples for all they will encounter as they go into the world proclaiming the gospel, Jesus exhorts them to tell the stories. Jesus wants them to share how and why their lives got intertwined with Jesus and how the good news has transformed their world:
- Stories of how the kingdom of heaven has come near
- Stories of what they’ve learned about God by sitting down with lepers, centurions and tax collectors, the sick, the tormented, and the paralyzed
- Stories of how following Jesus led them to see God in the stories of the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.
Now, it is true that stories of this kind upset the systems of empire and the order of the day. But in the Jesus movement, again and again, room is made for those on the margins to be fully known, to tell their stories and to proclaim, “I exist!” “I exist to God!”
This is such good news that it cannot be held back; it must be thrust into the light.
OUR STORIES CARRY THE MESSAGE
I wonder if Jesus knows how really difficult sharing our true stories in the light can be. For, while we long to tell our stories, they reveal our most authentic selves and that can be fearful. But Jesus insists, “Tell it in the light.” Even the parts you fear, “Tell it in the light.” Even the parts you’ve tried so hard to keep locked up and hidden away so that no one will ever know the depth of your struggles, your anxiety, your failings, your pain, your wounds, your addictions, your hangups, your questions, “Tell it in the light!”
Then, as soon as Jesus says, “Tell it in the light,” he says, “Do not fear…”
The God of the Sparrows, who cares deeply for those creatures that are sold for half a penny, loves you more than these. And not even those sparrows will fall to the ground unperciefed by God. God loves you more than these; God loves you more than anything. In fact, God stops at nothing, not even the life of the Son, to make sure you know you are loved and valued beyond measure. For you are created in the image of God – imago Dei – the very imprint of God at the core of your being. So, you do not have to be afraid because God has counted your every hair, your every wrinkle, your every cell. And you are LOVED!
No matter what has been done or left undone in your life thus far, your story can be told and new life can be found. Your truest identity is as a child of God and everything else flows out from it. And so we can tell our stories and hear the stories of others in the light of God’s love, without fear.
Jesus sends the disciples out with few if any supplies, but he sends them out everything they need: the power of story and the assurance of God’s love and care.
Fred Craddock, one of the great preachers and storytellers of the last century, says this about our stories:
Our stories must be trusted to carry the message. The greatest difficulty in storytelling is the matter of whether or not we trust a story to carry the freight. Do you trust the Kingdom of God, the message, to something as fragile as a story? Some believe that telling stories to change the world is like trying to break up concrete by throwing light bulbs against it. I’ve been present when someone threw light bulbs against concrete walls, and the walls cracked and fell.(Fred Cradock, “Preaching as Storytelling,” originally published in The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching. (https://www.preachingtoday.com/books/art-and-craft-of-biblical-preaching/stories-and-illustrations/preaching-as-storytelling.html)
May we find spaces in which we can be brave enough to tell our stories in the light. And to proclaim from the rooftops that all of our hope is in the love of God—redeeming and reconciling love. Love powerful enough to cast out fear. Love radical enough to reorder our world. And God entrusts all of this to you and me and something as fragile as a story. Amen.