I recently read an article about a project called StoryCorps. StoryCorps was the brainchild of a man named Dave Isay, who is a documentary film maker.
Isay got permission to set up a video booth in Grand Central Station in New York City. People could sit down in this little booth, a video camera would start recording, a remote interviewer would ask them questions, and a person could tell their story; as much or as little as they chose. The questions were things like:
- “Who has been the most important person in your life?”
- “What has been your happiest moment?”
- “What about the saddest?”
- “Do you have any regrets?”
- “How would you like to be remembered?”
When the interview is done, the person being interviewed walks away with a DVD copy. And, another copy is automatically archived at the American Folklife Center in the United States Library of Congress.
The idea is that someday, your great-great-great grandchildren could get to know you, or your parent, or your grandparent, by hearing your voice, seeing your face, and listening to your story. StoryCorps exists to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. Over a half-million people have shared their story through StoryCorps.
To be known, and to have a chance to tell our story, is something that as humans, I think we long for. We want someone to know that we existed. We want to leave a legacy. Humans are, I believe, hardwired to create and tell stories. Stories are how we learn. Stories are how we build relationships.
So here’s what I’ve been wondering lately: What will be our legacy? What will be the stories that we are going to tell about this time in our lives? About this era? Because a year ago, I could not have predicted the world in which we live today. Our world is not what we’d expected…nor what we’d hoped for.
- So how will we someday tell stories about life during a pandemic and quarantine?
- How will we tell stories about race, justice, and George Floyd?
What stories will we tell? Because make no mistake about it, stories will be told. But what will be the dominant narrative? Will our stories be of love, and grace, and sacrifice, and doing the hard things for the sake of our neighbor, for those in need…or will they not? Because here’s the thing: We get to decide. We are the storytellers, and we get to choose the stories. We get to interpret the events that happen in the world.
When you think about it, the ability to interpret the events of the world in a story is a lot of power. It is also a great responsibility. Because we know, there are people who choose to perpetuate false narratives.
Our Gospel text today is all about storytelling. Jesus was getting ready to send the disciples out, and was preparing them for what they would encounter. His instructions were simple: Trust that you will be taken care of. Pack light. Cure the sick. Raise the dead, heal the lepers and cast out demons. And most importantly, proclaim the Good News that the Kingdom of Heaven is close. And then he went on to say:
“So have no fear, for everything will be made clear to you. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear me whisper, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear. Are not two sparrows sold for just a penny? Yet God protects them. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So, do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Jesus knows that telling stories and listening deeply to the stories of others is holy, even transformative. And as Jesus prepares the disciples for all they will encounter as they go out into the world, he tells them to tell their stories…stories of how their lives were intertwined with Jesus, and how their world has been turned upside down because of this Good news. The telling of stories, is what will change lives. And so, 2000 years later, we are beneficiaries of the stories these disciples told. Our faith is formed because of their legacy.
And we are reminded in today’s Gospel lesson that Jesus’ instructions were not just for Peter, James, John and the rest. They are for us as well. We too are the disciples. We too are the storytellers.
So again, I will ask, what are the stories that we will tell of these weird, troubled days? What are we able to “proclaim from the rooftops?”
I have some thoughts. (I know…go figure…)
My hope is that the stories we tell in six months, 12 months, 5, 10 or 30 years, about these days, are stories full of grace. They are stories that point to the good in humanity, while being honest about the bad. They are stories about how God’s people and Christ’s church welcomed, connected, learned and served together. The stories will focus, I believe, on how we as a people, because of Jesus’ love, chose to value the needs of the individual; especially those who are vulnerable, or who are on the margins.
You see, the easiest path, the path of least resistance, is to perpetuate the false narrative of “us” and “them.” Because of sin, we are broken…and this brokenness leads to separation…and separation leads to brokenness…and brokenness leads to separation…so on…and so on…we are trapped in a cycle.
Jesus is calling us to something different. Jesus says that “all the hairs on your head are counted.” That means that everything about you is important, everything about you is loved. Everything about you has value. Everything. Remember, when God created the world, you were created in the “imago dei.” That means “in the image of God.”
The image of God is about how our hearts, our minds, our souls, are an impression of the heart, mind and soul of God. And that is true for all of God’s people. Let me say that again, in case you missed it: that is true for all of God’s people.
It doesn’t matter what nation you live within, how you identify in terms of gender, your age, your language, your education, what color your skin is or what your sexuality is. Because God loves you, you are the imago dei, the image of God.
So, what is the story I hope we tell? I hope that the stories that are carried from these days to our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond tell of a people who recognized God’s goodness in the world and within the lives of all of God’s people.
I hope that the stories they hear are about how we valued each other so much, especially the very young, the very old, and the very vulnerable, that we willingly sacrificed to protect them from a virus.
I hope that the stories they hear are about how this was the time when we really embraced all of God’s people with no conditions, and we abolished the sin of racism in all its forms, along with every other way that we judge and separate ourselves from each other.
I know, these sound like high hopes. And maybe they are. But I also know that this is God’s vision for the world. And I know that when we tell God’s transforming stories, and we focus our energy and we do the work, we can do these important, hard things. Do not be afraid; we can make God’s vision real.
Just like those first disciples, Jesus invites us to tell the story. “Proclaim it,” he says, “from the rooftops.” Live it and share it. Do not be afraid to tell what God is doing, and what God hopes to do. Because telling the story…it has power.
Fred Craddock was one of my seminary professors. He said “Our stories must be trusted to carry the message. The greatest difficulty in storytelling is the matter of whether or not we trust a story to carry the freight.”
Trust in God and trust in the power of the story that we have to tell. And be bold. Be bold in telling God’s story.
Because it is God’s story that has power…it is God’s story that transforms…it is God’s story breaks the grip of sin and separation, and brings life to all who hear it.
And we get to be the storytellers. Thanks be to God!