“One evening my grandpa called me into his study with a small glass bottle of honey in hand. Under the glow of his desk lamp he spread open the huge old Bible that had been his father’s before him. The scent of honey rose from his skin and his clothing and maybe the Bible itself. ‘Lookee here, Chrissie,’ he said, holding the capped jar like a magnifying glass over the words. ‘Our bees make such pure honey you could read right through it.’ The letters were slightly wiggled, but I could see them. ‘Isaiah,’ he said in his hoarse whispery voice, ‘that’s a good book. Here, read me this.’ His hands were square with a fleshy palm, the fingers all sinew and big knuckled. Outdoor hands, callused palms. His finger…pointed to the middle of the page. I stood on tiptoe, balancing myself with my hands on the edge of the roll top desk. ‘Isaiah 55:12,’ I said, just like they began in church, ‘For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.’ ‘Good,’ he said, and where he touched my hair I thought it smelled of honey. And where he touched my heart, there is honey still.” (Storycatcher by Christina Baldwin, New World Library, 2005, pgs.6-7)
That’s not my story. (No one, not even my grandfather has ever gotten away with calling me Chrissie.)
Even so, the first time I heard this story I entered into the scene, in my mind and my heart, as if I were there in person. It’s a beautiful story that belongs to Christina Baldwin who was one of our guest resource people at the presbytery meeting we hosted here in Kimberley last Spring.
Christina Baldwin has devoted much of her life to promoting the importance of story in our lives, individually and collectively. Christina has also worked extensively with congregations, and presbyteries in the United Church, to restore and nurture shared leadership drawing on our faith tradition and experiences as people of faith.
In her book, Storycatcher, Christina says that, “In the act of telling story, we create a world we invite others into. And in the act of listening to story, we accept an invitation into experiences that are not our own, although they seem to be. Story weaves a sense of familiarity. We are simultaneously listening to another’s voice and travelling our own memories.” (Ibid. pg. 7)
This is how many of us approach the stories in the Bible. The Bible is a book full of stories passed along by word of mouth often for generations before the stories were finally put into writing. These stories are an essential part of our faith tradition as are the stories about people of faith throughout the ages continuing to this day. When we hear the stories in the Bible, even though they were first told thousands of years ago and many of the images and cultural settings are foreign to us, we can still make connections with the feelings and experiences of our own lives. For instance, I can easily identify with the fierce, and yet tender love, of a mother hen gathering her chicks under the protective shelter of her wings, that we just heard in the reading from the Gospel of Luke. And, when we share our personal stories of faith it nurtures understanding and a sense of connectedness as people of faith. I have been part of two communities of faith who have intentionally asked people to share their Faith Stories during worship over extended periods of time. The results of this deep sharing, of how faith has shaped and influenced the lives of individuals who sit beside us during Sunday morning worship, was profound. The increased understanding, in these congregations, and respect for differences was immense as was a palpable sense of increased cohesiveness and a strengthening of common bonds. It makes sense to me that when you understand something about another person’s story it helps you to understand some of the views they hold and the values they cherish. Increased understanding fosters increased respect and an honouring of each other’s experience.
This past Friday, I was part of a group of people from Kootenay Presbytery who met and shared some of the joys and frustrations, ideas and dreams, opportunities and challenges that we face in our presbytery and in our United Church congregations. We do not always listen well to each other but on that day we did and I came away with insights that I would not have gained had others not been willing to risk being honest in sharing their feelings, hopes and dreams. I came away knowing that even though we don’t always agree with each other we can express ourselves honestly and in respectful ways that honour both the speaker and the listener. And, most of all, I felt the presence of the sacred in the midst of our sharing.
As Christians, actively learning and exploring our faith tradition, we also have the privilege of hearing and telling the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry. We are privy to the things that were really important to him and the things that challenged and frustrated him the most. In this season of Lent, we travel with Jesus through the stories of his wilderness experiences, his joys and frustrations in his teaching and healing ministry, and his struggles with helping others to understand God’s call for a compassionate and just society.
There is an old Hasidic saying that says, “What is truer than the truth? The Story.”. This invitation into the heart of the story, this way of engaging listeners to reflect on their own experiences and discover the truth within the story of their own lives, is the way that Jesus taught. Jesus was a consumate storyteller. He told parables, short stories that engaged his listeners and left them pondering what the truth of the story was for them.
In the coming weeks, during worship, we will hear Jesus’ voice as he tells the parables of the barren fig tree and the prodigal son. We’ll also hear the story of Mary who anoints Jesus’ feet with costly ointment and the stories of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his last supper with his disciples, his crucifixion and resurrection.
These stories, the many other stories in the Bible, and the stories of our own lives are essential to our understanding of ourselves as people of faith. A little while ago we sang words that refer to Jesus’ life and ministry. We sang, “The stories of his life become our stories, too. In the choices that we make, in ev’ry thing we do. Come and join us on a journey just begun.” (“A Journey Just Begun” by Jim Strathdee, All God’s Children Sing, pg. 51)
Today in our Annual General Meeting we will read and hear reports that tell some of the story of our life together as the community of Kimberley United Church. We will remember and give thanks for the contribution that each one of us makes to our community and we’ll spend time reviewing the past year in our life together and also talk about our present and future. We’ll see pictures that will remind us of times we’ve spent together, in work and in play, and we’ll hold each other in prayer and blessing. And, we’ll listen deeply and respectfully to what each of us has to say in the knowledge that we all want to respond faithfully for the good of our church family and the wider community.
I’ll end with a story that has nothing to do with the Bible and yet has everything to do with God’s presence and encouragement of us as people of faith. This is a story that arises out of the lore surrounding the Polish pianist, Paderewski.
It is said there was a mother who wanted to encourage her young son’s interest in learning to play the piano so she bought two tickets to a Paderewski concert. On the night of the performance, the mother took her little boy to the concert hall. She found their seats which were close to the the stage and she noticed that there was nothing on the stage other than a large Steinway piano. The mother soon found a friend to talk with and did not notice that her son had slipped away. At eight o’clock the lights dimmed, the spotlights came on, and the Steinway was bathed in light. Only then, did the mother notice that her son was seated at the piano bench where he began innocently to plunk the keys in a rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. The audience roared, his mother gasped, but before she could retrieve her son, Paderewski himself appeared onstage and moved quickly to the keyboard. “Don’t quit, keep on playing”, he whispered to the boy. And reaching past him with his left hand the Master began improvising a bass part, and then with his right hand, he reached around on the other side of the boy to add a running obbligato. The crowd was spell bound and the piece concluded in thunderous applause as the boy announced, “I didn’t know I could do that”. (Article by Dr. Norman Pott, Presbyterian Speaker)
God’s call and movement in our lives is like that. God whispers in our ear, “Don’t quit, keep on playing” and as we continue, we are lovingly enfolded as if by the sheltering wings of a mother hen. We are graciously inspired and from our first tentative efforts something wonderful may emerge.
In our life and ministry together as Kimberley United Church,
I pray this will be so.