A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Bible & The Power of Stories

In between worship services yesterday, a church member told me, "I am glad that our church is focusing on Old Testament stories this summer." This person said that this focus helps her to hear again these foundational stories of our Christian faith.

Over the course of my pastoral ministry, I have often preached exclusively on the Old Testament lectionary readings during the summer months. The lectionary which is based on a three year cycle of Old and New Testament readings will take us through an entire book of the Old Testament during the summer months. This summer, it is taking us on a journey through the Book of Genesis.

These scriptures are narrative in nature. They tell the precarious story of God's calling of particular individuals such as Jacob who has been our main focus this summer. Even though we have a worship leader read these stories directly out of the bible while standing behind a podium or a music stand, we should imagine that we are all around a campfire as we hear these stories.

When we are around a campfire telling stories, the stories that are being shared come to life. Likewise, the Old Testament stories would have been told in similar settings. These would have been told from memory with a few nuances thrown in here and there. People would have picked up on the humor and the playfulness that are included in these stories.

"Our faith is also about telling and hearing the funny, sad, joyous, and sometimes tragic stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith who sought to follow God."

In many ways, we have missed out on the art of biblical story-telling in the church setting. I have always enjoyed preaching on these stories because it allows me to become a story-teller. Our faith isn't simply a matter of reciting doctrines and creeds as important as they are. Our faith is also about telling and hearing the funny, sad, joyous, and sometimes tragic stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith who sought to follow God. When we hear these stories, we are reminded that in many ways, they were just like us. We share in their attitudes and emotions as we hear these great stories of faith.

Hearing stories of our faith involves an appreciation in using the right side of our brain, the creative and artistic side. This is not to say that reason or logic is unimportant. The biblical stories of our faith have a way of inviting us to participate in these stories. Sometimes, they cause us to want to scream out with our best Dr. Phil voice, "What were you thinking?!" At other times, they lead us to smile and offer a sigh of relief because God's grace has provided a surprise ending to the situation.

Probably the greatest aspect of these Old Testament stories (and New Testament stories for that matter) is to remember that each individual story is part of the larger biblical story which tells us of a God who created this world and is on a mission to rescue our world from sin and death. Even if you know how this larger story ends (spoiler alert: God sends Jesus to redeem the world), the individual stories that we hear on Sunday mornings during worship invite us to become part of the biblical story drama.

We go to church thinking that we will simply be passive observers. Instead, we hear a story and we find ourselves on center stage. We are now an active participant in the greatest story that has ever been told.

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