ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JANUARY 27, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
TELL ME A STORY
Romans 5: 6 – 11; John 9: 1 – 16 & 24 – 25
“Once upon a time, there lived a…” Got ya! That’s all it takes to have someone’s undivided attention because, from the time we’re children, we love stories. As a kid, I was obsessed with anything that started, “A long time ago, in a place far away…”. My son loved books and would beg to hear them read, even after he’d memorized every line. And heaven help me if I tried to skip over a part. My daughter would say, “Tell me a story, Mommy.” And when I’d reach for a book, she’d say, “No, not from a book. From your mouth.” So, I would proceed to make up great adventures which included her and her brother and any number of animals. Stories enchant us with relatable characters, plot lines that help us see life in new ways, vivid descriptions of places we’ve never been, probing questions or dilemmas that force our clarity about our own values, and twists and turns that we hope will lead to some sort of redemption. Perhaps we love stories because we all have one. Stories invite us into the reality of other people, and we read them in the hope of making sense of our own life experience.
Certainly, Jesus knew the power of stories – he told them all the time: stories of farmers sowing seeds or women baking bread; stories of people in debt or ditsy bridesmaids; stories of a lost son’s plight and a father’s heartache. Stories we still relate to. Jesus’ stories were always told in the context of a bigger story – God’s story. The story of creation, loss, promise and redemption. The story that takes us from the innocence of Eden to the Celestial City. To make sense of life, we all need to figure out how our own story fits into God’s story. The best part is that God’s story is always a comedy – a good news story that ends with a wedding banquet. When people grasp that God’s story has direct implications on their lives and speaks to the meaning of their own stories, lights go on. “I can have abundant life just by starting with the tiniest bit of faith”. “I can be healed and whole, just by asking”. “I can be cared for like a lost sheep”. “No matter what I’ve done, I will be welcomed home by my heavenly father who waits with open arms”.
For the last two weeks we’ve been speaking about Relational Evangelism. You’ve all been praying for someone. Let’s say you’ve developed a friendship with that person. The more you interact, the more open and honest the relationship becomes. She knows you’re a Christian. One day, she asks “Why do you go to Church every week?” So, you tell her, “I go for the fellowship. They’re an amazing group of people and we love and support each other.” Then she says, “Well, I have that with my friends on our bowling league. Why church? Why Jesus? What’s that about?” What would you say? You have about 45 seconds to say something that conveys the impact Jesus Christ has had in your life. What you say needs to be brief, natural, sincere and clear. Can you do it?
One of the greatest examples of this kind of declaration is the report the healed blind man gave to the Pharisees. Jesus had healed the man on the Sabbath amid a heated debate about whether the man was blind because of his own sin or that of his parents. Enraged that Jesus worked on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were skeptical about Jesus’ intentions and his powers. They questioned the man. Refusing to believe his account of the events, they summoned his parents to make sure it wasn’t a hoax. Finally, they put pressure on the blind man to denounce Jesus himself. The man responded, “I know nothing about whether he is a sinner or an imposter. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind. . . I now see” (John 9: 25). The beauty of that statement is its simplicity and its truth. Who can argue with the man’s experience? 30 years later, if a new friend were to ask that man, “What’s with your faith? How can you believe in Jesus?”, he would respond, “I was blind and Jesus made me see.” And how do you think his friend would react? Like the Pharisees, he may want to hear the whole story or verify the facts, but in the end, he’d have to say to himself, “Wow. Jesus healed him! If Jesus could do that for him, what could he do for me? I’m not blind, but I am… fill in the blank – emotionally wounded, or trapped in an addiction, or lost because my life has no meaning, or lonely because I’ve alienated people or anyone of a million sorrows that afflict a human being – and maybe, if Jesus could change this guys life, maybe he’ll change my life too.” That’s the impact of a faith story told well. It’s compelling. It goes right to the core of our human longing. It gives hope and plants a seed of faith in Christ in the soul of another person. Don’t we all want to do that? The amazing thing is – we can!
The essence of a good faith story is the before and after pattern that shapes our experience. Jesus transforms us. When we come to Christ our old self fades away and a new self is born. You don’t need to have a dramatic story for it to be effective. It can be as honest and simple as: “I was envious, now I’m grateful.” “I was self-destructive, now I’m healthy.” “I was guilt-ridden, now I’m free”. “I was fearful, now I’m confident”. “I was despairing, now I’m hopeful”. “I was angry, now I can forgive.” “I was sinking and Jesus lifted me up.”
The trouble is: few Christians do this effectively. But we can learn how to do it better! Here are some helpful guidelines:
• Be brief: When people sign on to listen to our story, they expect their clothes to be in style when we’re finished. A good story is 1 minute in length; certainly, no more than 3. Be sensitive to whether you still have the attention of your listener – if they are yawning, looking around, rolling their eyes or crossing their arms, get to the point asap.
• Be clear: A long, interwoven plot line that spans decades and includes a cast of characters as well as a bibliography is too confusing for people to follow. You need a simple statement, not a novel.
• Be relatable: You may be a great mystic who has visions of angels, talks to dead relatives and has psychic dreams. This is not the time to share those things. In an effort to impress or be thought of as spiritual, you will likely sound weird and turn people off.
• Use plain language: Every group has their own insider jargon. While some words may be important as people grow in faith, try to avoid religious phrases like “salvation”, “born again”, “accepting Jesus” and “personal Lord and Saviour”. These phrases have been over-done and are often mocked as typical of “fundamentalist Christians”; they make some people run. Moreover, they don’t mean much to someone who is seeking. Keeping your story simple and sincere is more helpful.
• Be humble: No one appreciates being spoken down to or condemned. Coming across as pious or superior or giving someone the impression that we have it all together doesn’t convey the love of Christ or make our faith or Jesus appealing. It tells people they are a pitiable, lost, sub-standard person and that you are a moralistic, arrogant snob. No one will want to become like you. Our faith should be conveyed as one beggar to another, sharing the good news of where to find bread.
• Offer hope: Scripture is filled with the promises of God. God seeks people like a shepherd goes in search of one lost sheep. Jesus walked across time and space to carry us back home. Everyone is important to him. God desires that no one should be lost. No one is beyond God’s grace. Do you have confidence in God’s promises? Jesus offered the woman at the well “living water” – soul-quenching, spirit-lifting, life-giving spiritual water, “an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life” (John 4: 14). For the people we encounter, the offers are limitless. Jesus gives:
Forgiveness for shame
Freedom from destructive habits
Strength to the weak
Rest to the weary
Richness of Spirit to those who are dried up
Consolation and comfort to the grieving
Eternal life to the dying
Wholeness to the damaged
Refuge to the vulnerable
New hearts to the calloused
Love to the loveless
Acceptance to those who need to prove themselves
We could go on and on.
We all have a faith story – a story about the way we encountered Christ and how that has changed us. Each one of us can learn to tell our story effectively. When we were studying the series “Just Walk Across the Room” in the fall, the group was challenged to write their faith story in 100 words or less. Two of our participants – regular people like you – offered to share their stories today to model for you how this is done: Eric, Lloyd.
If they can do it, so can you.