“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!
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