“Until lions write their own stories,
the hunters will always be the heroes.”
— African proverb

I’ve been working — with dubious progress — to write some of my life stories for an upcoming book. As I recall and piece together (re-member) these stories, I’m keenly aware that others in my life have experienced these same events quite differently. It’s inevitable to the human condition, of course: this disconnect between our bodies’ stories, this inability for me to know your perspective or experience exactly as you know it.

And so, at our best, we tell our own stories as honestly as possible … and we listen carefully to one another’s stories, receiving them as true for the teller … and we pay attention to the intersections of stories that shape our collective life.

This coming Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary texts beg the question of whose perspective is being told (and why), whose body’s story is disconnected or discounted from Scripture’s re-membering, and whose experience of an event is believed to be true.

+ If we only read Genesis 25:19-34 aloud in worship, for example, we omit the names of Abraham’s other descendants: the sons of Ishmael, Abraham’s first-born son, as well as the sons of Keturah, Abraham’s second wife (Genesis 25:1-19), not to mention all of Abraham’s daughters. How do we acknowledge in our preaching that our beloved Scriptures hint of — but rarely tell — many stories that multiply far beyond the pages of the Bible?

+ And again in Genesis 25:19-34: when we focus on Jacob as the sole bearer of Abraham’s inheritance and of God’s promises, when we as preachers assume Jacob’s experience to be the exclusive story — we miss opportunity to highlight the shared experiences of the twins. Were not Jacob and Esau identical in their wheeling & dealing for immediate gain and gratification in life — a momentary relief from hunger, a momentary triumph over a sibling? 

+ Sometimes another person’s storytelling is so unfamiliar to our own story that it sounds like a wild parable — like a tale of farming that is explicated for an audience of fishers. And really, what on earth should fishers sitting on a lakeshore make of a laborious analysis of seeds (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)? Why speak of the rootedness of a seed when you could preach on the anchor of a boat … to fishers?! How does our preaching till the soil of our listeners so that they engage the world with open hearts for stories unlike their own? Must Esau be Jacob’s enemy in order for Jacob to be the biblical hero?

+ Of course, sometimes our own storytelling is less than honest — or at least, less than clear. Sometimes our experiences conflict themselves and our perspectives can be imprecise … like the psalmist who praises the faithfulness of God’s word in one breath while lamenting life’s afflictions in the next (Psalm 119:105-112) … or like Paul who conjectures that the mind and flesh and spirit are distinct experiences that can be separated and chosen between (Romans 8:1-11). How do we provide space and affirmation for those within our pastoral care to hold as whole all of their varied and seemingly conflicting life experiences?

Stories are told for a purpose. What is the purpose of the biblical stories you’ll employ in your preaching this week?

How will you bridge the disconnect between biblical and modern experiences, between the perspectives of your parishioners and their neighbors, between [the not-really-distinct-realms-of] faith and politics, perhaps even between people’s perceptions of a straightforward biblical narrative and the rich complexity of scripture’s stories?

You’re invited to share sermon prep, homiletic inclinations, and thematic wonderings with your colleagues in the comments!


Rachel G. Hackenberg is a United Church of Christ minister, soccer mom, blogger, and author. Her book Sacred Pause plays with words to refresh our relationship with The Word.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

8 thoughts on “RCL: Telling the Stories

  1. We got into an interesting discussion of the Gospel at our text study group this morning. For most people hearing this story (and maybe for many of those preaching about it), it seems to be an admonition to become better soil; to soften our hard-packed surface, remove our rocks and thorns. It seems to be law, rather than gospel. But our text study is a group of Lutherans who remember Martin Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, which begins “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or power believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him; but instead the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with the Spirit’s gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” So if this story is an admonition to do that which we are completely incapable of doing, where is the good news in that?

    And if the passage is descriptive rather than prescriptive, then it puts the whole question of election and predestination on the table. If we are rocky soil and cannot do anything to change that, are we necessarily shut out of the possibility of ever being good soil?

    And if I outline our predicament and then say “But never fear, God loves you and will send the Spirit to pick the rocks and remove the thorns,” that seems to be an overly simple “deus ex machina” solution that doesn’t grow directly from this text. It may be pleasant for the hearer; but I’m not sure it’s faithful to the Word.

    I don’t have answers, but these seem to the be questions that I need to wrestle with this week. I’m glad I’m starting earlier than – ahem – some other weeks. Maybe the Spirit will actually have time to clear some rocks and thorns out of my brain and replace them with a sermon.

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    1. Thank you for raising such great questions about this passage. You really made me think!

      I wonder if this isn’t so much about God swooping in to take away the rocks and thorns, or humans removing our own rocks and stones and “making” ourselves better soil as it is about being open to the work of Jesus in our lives to tend to our soil. I know that the Word falls on different soil in my life now than it used to and I attribute that to the work of the Spirit. It was not my own tilling of my soil, but a stance of turning my garden over to God and allowing the rocks and thorns to be tended. As an example, I used to joke that Jesus says to love our neighbor but if He knew my neighbor He might make an exception. I believed in loving others but found my actual next door neighbor to be annoying and i had no real interest in “loving” them. The Word was falling on poor soil. And then one day as I was making that joke I felt God nudge me and say – I actually do know your neighbor and I still mean love them. Something shifted in me. A rock was removed, a thorn pruned not by my active effort but by the work of the Spirit. Yet, I was open to that work. I didn’t argue back or keep actively resisting. I began praying for neighbor and listening for God’s response.

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    2. Ooooo, Barbara, these are rich & complex questions, and you’ve sent me back to reread the passage. Like your study group, I often hear the parable as an admonition, so I’m intrigued to hear it as a description. What if, in the descriptive tone, it’s not an observation of predestined reception (or rejection) of the good news but instead a realistic observation of the disciples’ (and Jesus’) experiences of sowing good news? “Some folks will get it, some folks won’t understand, some folks will throw you out, but keep sowing.” At the end of Matthew 13, for example, Jesus is rejected by those in Nazareth. Hope your questions are sorting themselves in the direction of a sermon!

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  2. I’m preaching this week on the parable of the soils. The line that keeps sticking in my head so far is “God makes it grow” from 1 Corinthians 3:6, which leads me to the conclusion that ongoing conversation with God is the way to be good soil – to read the word in conversation with God so that it sinks in beyond where birds can steal, and grows roots deep enough to withstand the heat, and to keep on praying about the cares that threaten to choke it out. . . to be praying patiently and expectantly that God’s word will achieve its purpose in us, as Isaiah 55:10-11 says it does.

    I’m excited about the children’s message in which we will plant some seeds…including mustard seeds…and then have sprouts to look at and talk about along with the parable of the weeds, and somewhat grown mustard by the time we read that parable in two weeks. Partly I’m excited that I have actually thought ahead far enough to do something like this!

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  3. I’m working with Jacob and Esau, and pulling in the Isaiah passage as well (mostly because it fits and partly because I’m offering a meditation on it for a community worship service in a couple of weeks, and also because it’s one of my very favorite scripture passages). Why do we sometimes give up/throw/trade away things that we know, deep down, we shouldn’t? Esau is the prime example, of course, and a ton of romance novels/movies. We let go of things and then realize that was our heart’s need, our soul’s calling, our very vocation. Sometimes we let go of a dream because our parents think we should follow another calling; sometimes we are bullied into hiding ourselves in a closet, sometimes we don’t know how to do what we need to do. “Why do you spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy?” And many of us do that–we take a job we have to have and compromise, instead of living fully into ourselves–because we have had to trade ourselves away.
    I’ve been looking for a metaphor or story for this (besides E and J!) and The Little Mermaid keeps sticking in my head–the original, not Disney’s–which is much darker and more complicated, and has the whole love complication in it besides. I can roll with just E and J, I just like to have another narrative that people can relate to if possible.
    Any thoughts?

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    1. Your thoughts remind me of the Jim Collins business book Good to Great. It talks about how we settle for good instead of moving on to great. Good is easier.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the opening line of your blogpost, Rachael: “Jacob’s a jerk, Esau’s an idiot, and God is brilliant.” 🙂

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