Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Greatest Story Ever Told...

Luke 24 v 36-49

We human beings love stories, don’t we? It’s the first thing that we do to our children, when they are old enough to understand even a few words...we read them a story. As we grow older, our stories change - they become more elaborate, more detailed, more complex. Our ancestors told stories around campfires. In our time, we watch movies, or devour Jane Austin novels (well, Clare does, anyway).  

Psychologists tell us something that Holy Men have known for millennia: stories have the power to transform us. As we listen to stories, we ask ourselves questions: “what would it be like to be in that situation?” “How would I get out of that crisis?” “Would I like to become like the person in this story?”.

Like every Holy Man, Jesus also knew the power of story. That’s why he told so many parables. I wonder - have you ever considered the fact that - as far as we know - Jesus never took the trouble to write down a single word of instruction to his followers?  Jesus didn’t leave us a rule-book.  He didn’t write down a precise list of behaviours and instructions he wanted us to follow. Instead he gave us stories. Stories of a wayward son who is greeted with love and acceptance by a father whose love has been abused. Stories of a foreigner who acts as a neighbour. Stories of what happens when we let earthly possessions become more important than heavenly treasure.

But the bible doesn’t just contain stories. It is itself a story - in fact someone once called it ‘the Greatest Story Ever Told’. This story weaves history with myth, poetry with fact; and at each turn of the page we are invited, by the Greatest Story-teller, to put ourselves in the place of each character. “Does this story reflect my circumstances? What can I learn from how the character resolved this particular situation?”

Today’s Gospel reading is no exception. Let’s see if we can’t follow that ancient practice of putting ourselves into the story.  Let’s see if we can perhaps make some connections between the reading, and our own circumstances...

The first thing I want to observe is that, throughout this story, the Disciples are at a pivotal point in their own lives, and in the history of the church. On the one hand, Jesus death is behind them...he has visibly triumphed over the grave. But on the other hand, the hard work of establishing the church is still ahead of them.

I think we can say that there are some parallels between the disciples’ situation and ours. Certainly there have been some difficult days in our fairly recent past. And certainly, there is a great deal of work still to be done before the Kingdom is fully established in Havant.  Faith in the UK is on the wane, and yet people need God more than ever before.  We faithful few who gather on a Sunday are a tiny minority of our community – just as the disciples were a tiny minority of theirs.  We too, then, are at a pivotal point in our history...just like the disciples.

The next thing I noticed, when I looked more closely at this story was that when Jesus appeared to his disciples, his behaviour towards them was pretty surprising.  These were the disciples who had abandoned him, denied him, and run away and hidden while he was being crucified.  You would have thought that the first thing he would have said to them would be something like, “where were you then?”.  You might have expected Jesus to insist that everyone in that room should have got down on one knee and begged for forgiveness. But no. Jesus reaction to seeing those who had hurt him in the past was a very simple one. “Peace be with you”.

Peace be with you. Four simple words...but four words which convey a Universe of meaning. Four words which offer forgiveness, even without apology. Four words which acknowledge that all human beings get things wrong sometimes. Four words which show more than any other how God deals with those who have hurt him, those who have wronged him, denied him, deserted him...he offers them peace.  That’s the kind of God we serve.

The next thing I notice, is that the disciples were given a message to preach. Verse 47: “ his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations...” Having revealed himself to them, having clearly forgiven them, Jesus sent them out into the world to preach his message of the topsy turvey kingdom. The disciples were charged with a story to tell - a story which we have inherited and which we are commanded to tell as well. It’s a story about the Lord of the Universe who is born in a stable. It’s a story about the King of the Ages, who rides on a donkey. It’s a story about a God who dies, so that his creation can have life. It’s a topsy turvey story. It’s a story about how the followers of this God, who have received his forgiveness, go on to offer that forgiveness to other people.

Finally - the last thing I notice about this story - is that the Disciples are promised the Spirit of God. Verse 49: “I myself will send upon you what my Father has promised. But you must wait in the city until the power from above comes on you.” Of course, we know that this promise was fulfilled. We know the story of the day of Pentecost. But the disciples didn’t know. All they could do was that the story would come true... Trust that the story-teller was reliable.

And that, finally, is what we must do to.  We must trust in the story. As we go forward into the future, as a parish, as families, as individuals, we need to trust that the story we are living will have a happy ending.  The Bible, the “Greatest Story Ever Told” concludes with a vision of a new heaven and a new earth.  It’s story with a happy ending that we are, already in many ways living out. The promise of this story is that if we will hold on to the story-teller, if we will live as the story-teller invites us to live,  if we will draw from the same source as the story-teller - then there is a promise of life everlasting, life to the full, life in all its fullness, for ever.  That’s a story worth telling. Isn’t it?

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