The Sunday Sermon: The Power of Story

What a beautiful passage in today’s Gospel. It details the the next chapter in Luke’s steady development of Jesus’ followers from a small band of disciples to today’s seventy ambassadors, to the many thousands who, in Luke’s Book of Acts, will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to share God’s Good News with the world. The Jesus movement is growing, Luke wants us to know, and there is an even more abundant harvest in store. Join us!

Yet it’s less clear how we might go about being the Lord’s laborers in the harvest today, especially because many of us have a lot of baggage around the term “evangelism”. Images of frothy-mouthed preachers disturbing the peace on street corners make our spines tingle. But it’s too bad we’ve let the hysterics of some take away the words we might otherwise say to those searching for hope in this hurting world. Because the fact is, God gave us two means to share God’s Good News — word and example — but not so we could choose one rather than the other, but so that our words would inspire our actions and our actions exemplify our words.

I know, I know — I like the quote misattributed to St. Francis, too: Preach the Gospel at all times — use words when necessary. The problem with the quote’s attribution to Francis — besides the fact that it doesn’t show up in any of his biographies for two hundred years after his death — is that our beloved saint often preached in as many as five villages a day! And he backed up those words with some pretty impressive actions as well.

But why do we hang on to this quote so dearly? I think it’s because we want to live a Christian life but we don’t want to talk about it — at least not in San Diego in 2016 — because not only is it not cool to talk about being Christian, depending on the context it can be downright offensive. And we’re Episcopalians! We have vergers who bow to us before we walk anywhere. We like being polite.

I’ve been thinking about and struggling with all this for some time, at least since Chris Harris left us and I became the staff liaison for outreach and evangelism at the Cathedral. And then I stumbled on God’s Extended Hand, a scrappy nonprofit located in a dilapidated building on 16th and Island downtown that somehow manages to feed seventy or more unhoused and hungry people twice a day, seven days a week. It also allows dozens of people — women and children first — to sleep safely on the dining room floor every night.

Now you probably haven’t heard of them because they require something most of us are at best annoyed by — God’s Extended Hand requires everyone who wants a meal to listen to thirty minutes of preaching first. I heard a gasp — I know! If the Cathedral’s sermons started going thirty minutes each week, I don’t think we could convince y’all to come even if we served shrimp and champagne afterwards! Well, when I heard about this requirement, I wasn’t impressed either — but I did appreciate their daily meal schedule and wanted to check them out before I referred any hungry people down there. And after Pastor Curtis took me on a tour and told me he was always looking for more preachers, I was surprised to find that I wanted to try preaching there myself. I think I thought that I could at least give these poor folks a break by not preaching for half an hour, and I could tell them God loves them — who knows how much fire and brimstone they were getting from the other preachers — and the whole thing couldn’t be that bad for everyone involved.

But I didn’t want to do this on my own, so I called the guy I always call when I’m in a lurch and need to hear the word “yes” — my friend Gary Owen. Poor guy. Such a good sport! He is doing some darn good work for God in the world — I can attest to that. So Gary and I have been sharing a pulpit at God’s Extended Hand for several months on the second Thursday of the month from 9:30-10 am. You should come by — it really is a sight to see.

I bring this all up because I have a hypothesis about this false choice we’ve been presented with between sharing the Good News by word or example — I submit for your consideration that when we share our personal stories we naturally combine our words with our actions in quite persuasive ways. So let’s try this out — Gary’s going to come up and share a recent personal story with you. I invite you to notice the ways that his story uses words to bring alive an experience he had of the Holy Spirit that led to surprising and inspired action.

Gary Owen’s story is here.

Thank you, Gary! So how might you share your personal stories of God working in your life with those around you? We humans are natural storytellers, and our stories will use words to describe and explain our actions in persuasive ways, ways that others won’t argue with because they are stories about us. The stories will just happen to be about God, too. Tell a personal story this week in person or online — for indeed, the Kingdom of God has come near — near enough to taste, touch, eat, smell — near enough for a who, what, where, when, why, and how — near enough to share with this hurting world that needs to know that God has not forsaken us — not now, not ever, no exceptions.

The Rev. Colin Mathewson
3 July 2016

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