Rev. George Miller
1 Timothy 1:12-19
“Avoiding Shipwrecks of Faith ”
Sept 12, 2010
Storytelling is a part of the human experience. In fact, I wonder if one day scientists will claim that our ability to tell stories is the only thing that separates us from animals.
Since storytelling is a part of our humanity, it is also a part our faith: the Bible is full of stories, Jesus was an expert storyteller.
Stories have a way of helping us learn a truth better then a direct statement ever could. “Don’t talk to strangers” is rather mundane, but put a young girl in a red cape into the woods with a wolf, and now it has some oomph!
Stories help us learn about the experience of others so we’ll know how to act when in a similar situation.
Stories also give us archetypes: the kinds of personalities that exist. In my journeys there are two archetypes that I’m intrigued by: the ones who think the sky is falling and the ones who sit idly by, expecting God to do everything.
Remember the story of Chicken Little? She’s sitting under a tree when an acorn falls atop her head. She’s so sure that the sky is falling that she runs around proclaiming words of doom to anyone who’ll hear, creating a self-defeating paranoia?
If you’ve ever been a Chicken Little let me hear you say “Cluck, cluck”.
Then there’s the story you’ll come across on the internet about a man who refuses to leave his house during a storm even though everyone else has been evacuated.
First, a Jeep comes to rescue him he says “No thanks, God is going to save me.”
The rain is pouring down so hard it floods the first floor. By now the man is sitting on the second floor windowsill. A boat comes to rescue him he says “No thanks, God is going to save me.”
The water continues to climb until the man is now sitting on top of his roof. A helicopter comes to rescue him but the man says “No thanks, God is going to save me.”
Eventually the man drowns and goes to Heaven. He meets God and asks, rather upset, “Why didn’t you save me? Couldn’t you see me?”
To which God says “Who do you think sent you the Jeep, the boat and the helicopter?”
If you’ve ever been like him say “No thanks.”
I can be like him if I’m not careful...come to think of it, I can also be like Chicken Little. I think we all can, that’s why these stories are so memorable.
Then there are the true stories, the one’s that involves ourselves and express our experience of God, in which we recall what God has done for us. These are called testimonies.
Testimonies are a powerful form of evangelism because when we share our stories, we help others understand their own story and their relationship with God. For example, here’s a testimony you may know.
Once upon a time, long long ago, in a place called Long Island there lived a teenager. He always felt a close connection to God, even if he didn’t always feel it in church.
One day, while running around the high school track, he “felt” the voice of God say “I want you to be a pastor.” The teenager said “No way, pastors are boring and I want to have fun.” So he kept on running, doing what he wanted to do.
But the truth was, he did not always have fun. Oh, there were good times in college and friends were made, but there were also bad experiences and folk who hurt him badly.
He became a waiter, which he thought was glamorous and would bring in lots of money, except it wasn’t always glamorous and did not always bring in lots of money.
8 years later and now a young man, he felt that voice of God again. This time it called him to work with kids. This was not as boring as being a pastor, so he took a job working with neglected children. The pay was not great, but the joy was.
God moved in unexpected ways, like in a hail storm, nature walks and cups of hot tea.
It was during this time that the young man realized he was at his happiest when at church, sharing God. So as he entered middle age, he finally accepted the calling God had given him when he was a teenager running around a high school track....
...and by no longer running away, the hills he once faced had become flat, the finances he had been struggling with came together, and that which he though would make him the most boring brought the most joy; real joy.
And one day, on the night before he was to turn 40, he received a phone call. It was from a search committee in Florida, and they asked if he would like to be their pastor.
They lived happily ever after, and the teenager who went from being a young man to middle aged to 40 and grey learned some valuable lessons.
First, when God calls, answer. Second, that one is the happiest when doing what they were created to do, even if at times it can be hard.
This is my story, from shipwrecks to rescue. It’s what shapes and informs my trust in God.
By telling my story I can perhaps help others steer away from having their own shipwrecks of faith that will leave them stranded on jagged rocks.
What are the stories that we tell? What are the stories we, the members of Emmanuel United Church of Christ tell? I ask because what we tell will play a role in wether we will have smooth sailing or crash into jagged rocks.
Will our stories make us out to be Chicken Littles or complacent Christians who will sit back and expect God to do it all?
Or will our stories point us to a healthy balance in which we say, “Before the sky even seems to fall, let us call upon God, seek out Christ and find ways to work together, seeing what the Holy Spirit can do”?
Think of three issues most mid-sized churches face today: children, finances and membership.
Then ask: how is God going to use our time, resources and talents to address these concerns?
Next, we ask: what are the stories that we will tell? What stories exist within our cannon of faith and what are the personal and communal stories that will most give us strength?
The stories that we tell will help us address each concern and either direct us towards rocks of destruction or towards open waters in which God’s creation is busy at play.
For example, people worry about there being no children in the congregation. Some will say its because there are no children in this part of Sebring. But others will point to the YMCA down the road and say that at any time you will find it filled with young ones.
What about the stories in our Bible? For example, the one of Abraham and Sarah. It starts by telling us that God appeared to a childless man and promised that in due time his wife would have a child, and they would have as many offspring as there are stars in the sky. And that’s exactly what came to be.
See, when you learn and recall this story you can begin to understand that for God age ain’t nothing but a number and if God can bring children into the household of one couple, how much more can God bring children into a holy household made up of many, many couples, young and old alike?
People worry about finances, everyone in this recession is. However, do we act as if the sky is falling or do we passively sit by waiting for God to make it rain down pennies from heaven?
What story do we tell? We could tell the story about how a few years ago our church had a vision to build a new sanctuary, and through hard work and a plan we were able to raise the money to build it with no mortgage and funds left over!
Now that’s a pretty dang good story.
Or how about this story: last week there was so much money in our offering jars, that when someone unselfishly put more money in, the entire Tuppence Tree fell over, crashing to the floor, sending loose change all over the place: pennies from heaven!
Finally, folk worry about membership. Our numbers are not like they were 10 years ago; not many other churches are. But numbers are not the sole indicator of faith or successful ministry. Look at the stories in our Bible.
Like how Jesus started his ministry with only 12 men. Not 24 or 48 or 96 or 192, but with 12 men, many of whom smelt like fish!
Some want to focus on the number of people who have left. I ask what good does that story do? Wouldn’t you rather talk about the number who stayed, the number who returned or how about the people who have joined us today?
Which story do you think offers the most hope, speaks about resurrection and the transforming capabilities of our Heavenly Captain?
In conclusion, we are storytelling creatures. We can’t help it: it’s in our DNA. And we love to tell and hear the same stories over again and again.
The stories we tell become the stories we live by; how we choose to tell our stories can influence our reality, creating shipwrecks of faith or steering us safely into bluer waters.
Which stories will we be telling? My favorite ones are the stories that remind us how we’re not the sole captain of the ship, but that we sail along with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit leading the way.
Because I believe when we know these kinds of stories, when we tell these kinds of stories again and again, we help to create a means through which children will find their way into our midst, finances will pour in like pennies from heaven and fellow sailors will find safe refuge here.
This is God’s glorious church, and we are all a library full of stories. What stories will we tell and believe in to keep the church alive with the Spirit?
Thanks be to Christ, our storytelling brother, the Spirit that gives us breathe to tell our tales and for God, the first and ultimate creative artist.
Amen and amen.