May 29, 2011 Aimee Bruno Gospel: John 14:15-21 1st Reading: Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20 2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22
Many of you have read the book “Lonesome Dove” or seen the miniseries. Nick and I watched it a few years back and I’ve spent the last two weeks engrossed in this 900+ page novel—reading on the bus and Max and before bed, at lunch breaks, in the bathtub, on a blanket in the yard the day the sun came out, while I’m waiting for the noodles to boil, and every spare minute I’ve had. It is an engrossing book full of interesting characters and exciting adventures. I don’t mind that I already saw it, because I forget most of what I watch on TV and there are all kinds of details and twists and turns that they couldn’t fit in the miniseries.
The cowboys of the Hat Creek Cattle Company start out in Arkansas, but any good adventure means travel. It isn’t long before they’ve got someplace to go. It is something different that motivates each person. Augustus is going after Clara, the long lost love of his life. Jake Spoon is going after riches. Some of the young cow hands they take with them are on the cattle drive for the adventure and some because their families can’t feed them. Deets is going as a tracker, to do what he’s good at. July isn’t with these cowboys but you know he will cross tracks with them. He’s looking first for the man who shot his brother and then for his runaway wife. Everyone there has a reason for being on the journey. Those who don’t have a good enough reason to go, end up turning back, like the cook.
“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is within you.” The same is true for each of us. Everyone has a reason—a motivation for being on this journey of faith. Each of us has a story about where we were before we were here, what brought us here, and what’s happened to us since we got here. We’ve all got a story about whether we found what we were looking for, or if we’re now looking for something different than when we started. We’ve all got a story about what we’re good at, how we each fill a role here at our church and how that has changed over the years.
How often do we tell that story? I’ve probably got it easier than you. I don’t usually like people to know first thing that I’m a pastor. I like them to see me as a human being first. But when they find out what I do, they often get curious and want to know how I came to this point and what I do all day. In seminary I had to learn to tell my story. We had to write our faith story so many times! We had to tell it in small groups and then for chaplaincy. We got pretty tired of our own story. However, it is good to have this skill when you meet someone new—to be able to pare it down to a two sentence faith story or a 30 minute story. Still when I meet new pastors, we often eventually tell one another the story of our journey of faith, an accounting of the faith that is in us. When people get curious about my story, it is always an opportunity for me to get curious about theirs and ask them to share about their journey. I’ve got an automatic “in.” I get to cheat a little.
Some of you know your own story inside and out. Some of you know each other’s stories. Some of you joined this church at the same time. Many of you have gone on difficult legs of this journey together and know each other deeply because of your shared experience. But some people here are newer. Even those of you who’ve known each other a long time have new parts of your story to add. How often do we practice telling our faith story to one another? Could that give us confidence in telling our story more widely in a respectful, and inviting way to those we meet?
It is also about more than sharing it in our faith community. Look at Paul in the reading from Acts. He’s telling his story in the government center. He’s had practice telling his story. He doesn’t start out telling the good news by saying, “People, you’ve got it all wrong.” He starts out by complimenting them, and praising their religion. He makes connections with where they are, mentioning the shrine of the unknown God and linking it with the God who created everything. He tells a story about our unity with one another, that we are from one ancestor, made of the same substance and all of us close to God. He brings up their own poets. He knows their culture. He’s being respectful as he tells what he knows about God and gives an account of the hope that is in him, “with gentleness and reverence” as it says in 1 Peter. You can tell he’s listened deeply to their story and also joined his with theirs.
There are people of extraordinary faith that you meet once in a while. I’m not talking about a painted-on smile. I’m talking about a genuine faith that keeps them firmly rooted, calm in a storm. When I meet those people, I like to ask them to give an account of the faith within them. I want a piece of that story to take with me so I can learn to be calm rather than afraid and so I can hold firmly to my faith when everything is falling apart. It makes my faith stronger when I hear those stories.
A couple of weeks ago a child who has been visiting the congregation asked me about baptism when we were sitting at coffee hour. She attends our church and two other churches, so I asked her if she’d seen a baptism and what happened and her thoughts on baptism. And I asked her if she wanted to be baptized here or at one of her other churches. She said at King of Kings and of course I was curious as to why. She told me that the pastor is nice, of course—she had to say that! And then she clearly gave an accounting of the faith that was in her, what gives her hope. She said that the people here listen to her and care about her.
What a clear testimony from a little girl! She knew what it was that drew her here and kept bringing her back and was drawing her into a deeper relationship with God. Even though she’s a kid, she feels that she’s treated like a fellow human being at this place. And that isn’t the case everywhere she goes.
Isn’t that the world we live in! We don’t always get treated with respect, like human beings. We don’t always listen or get listened to. The world puts us down and tries to keep us down. Sometimes our church does, too. Last week I talked about how we could be more tolerant with each other and just deal when we feel uncomfortable with others’ behaviors. This week, I want to share that although we can always do better, for many it is happening! I had a proud moment when I heard this girl say that this church is doing its job. It is listening to the little children and the elderly, the hungry, the disabled. It is seeing the human being in each person, seeing God in each person, the holy, our oneness in Christ. There is no difference between this little girl and any one of the rest of us—she is a child of God and we will treat her so. And the same is true of each person, if you’re in a wheel-chair, if your eyesight is failing, if you’re divorced, if you are gay or lesbian, if you are bald, or pregnant, or emotionally unstable, or talk too much or too little, or sing off key—this is a place where everyone is valued and treated with respect and according to this little girl, it is really happening at this place. So keep up the good work!
And don’t just let it happen here, but take it to everyone you meet during the week—listen to them like Jesus listens to you. It could make all the difference in a person’s life.
I would probably have chosen for you to have a conversation this week, to share with one another an accounting of your faith and hope. However some of you feel this disrupts the flow of the service. So I’m going to invite you to do it at coffee hour. Share a bit of your faith story this week at coffee hour and find the chance this week to be curious about the faith of someone you come into contact with. Ask them what gives them hope and really listen and be ready to share a little of where your hope comes from in a way that honors both of you as fully human children of God.