Sermon from the 2018 Allegheny Synod Women of the ELCA Convention –
God’s Story, My Story, Your Story
Grace to you from God our Father and our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“So – what’s your story?” This is a question that has been asked of me at different points of my life. Especially after moving or meeting someone new for the first time. As a seminarian – I was asked it A LOT! Everyone I met wanted to know how I had gotten to the point of dropping everything in my mid-30’s and moving to an unfamiliar state to pursue a life of service to God and neighbor. I mean – seriously… who does that? There must be a story there!
I would love to think that this question posed to me was because of my dynamic and engaging charismatic personality which defies all pastoral norms! However, it is a question that most seminarians and pastors are asked – A LOT. Honestly, it’s not even unique to ministry professions. Many people get asked this question – A LOT. I’m sure many of you have been asked it as well. What is your story?
We all have a unique and different story. Mine for example began on a dark and stormy Tuesday afternoon in Dallas, Oregon. The year was 1980… the month – September… the date – the 30th. After laboring for almost 20 hours a young mother delivered a baby girl – a baby girl who she planned to name… Charity.
That was not what you were expecting was it? At that point in her life my mother was a born-again fully immersed fundamentalist Christian and had decided to name me Charity. Fortunately, that is not the end of the story! Even more fortunately – a few weeks prior to my birth, my mother found the name “Ariel” in a Baby-Name-Book. She decided that she liked the name Ariel, which means, “Lion of God” better than Charity.
I am super grateful that she made that choice because anyone who knows me even a little bit, knows that Charity is not terribly befitting of my personality. “Lion of God” however, is much, much, much more apropos.
The rest of my 37-year long story has been a journey of living into my name. At times, like now, I am much more closely linked to my name. Times where I ferociously engage God’s kingdom and do my best to spread God’s message of love, grace, and salvation to the world. God’s story and my story are unified. My story is God’s story.
There have also been times where my life has been in other places – I was on a different road telling a different story. I wasn’t trapped in a cycle of debauchery or substance abuse or even narcissism – nothing that exciting or novel worthy – I was just not connected with God.
I was a new young exhausted mother. I was in a relationship that was all consuming and didn’t leave time or space for God. I was angry with God and turned my back for a while after the tragic loss of a loved one. In those times and spaces my story was not God’s story. My story was sad and lonely and isolated.
In those moments my story was also not connected to your story. Because – ultimately God’s story is what draws all of our stories into community with one another. Which brings us to places like this where our stories converge, our paths cross, even if just for a little while.
In our Gospel text this morning two of Jesus’ followers are on a journey. A man named Cleopas and another man who is unnamed. And it’s a sad journey. They have just been in Jerusalem where their friend and rabbi was put to death. They watched him die. This man who they thought was the Messiah is just – gone.
If Cleopas and his partner had had their way, the salvation story would have been different – one without suffering, a cross, a grave, and Jesus’ absence. They summed up events by saying, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” If they had had their way, the Palm Sunday parade would have been the beginning of a different more predictable dramatic story where a movement was formed that would end the hated Roman domination. A movement that would evict Rome from Israel and return the Jews to their previous greatness.
Instead these two men witnessed a very different story unfold. One filled with suffering, death, & defeat. This was not the journey that they thought they were signing on for. Suffering and death were not part of the bargain. The cross shattered every hope and dream they had regarding Jesus. They thought they knew where his story was going and they were wrong! The cross was a trick and tragic ending to their desired story for him.
As they walked along they were talking and discussing what had transpired. Where had the story diverged from it’s projected course? How had this happened? While they walked and talked – a stranger approached them. It is the resurrected Jesus but they didn’t recognize him. He asked what they were talking about and they were both kind of sadly stunned. What else would anyone be talking about??? Cleopas filled Jesus in on what happened to him. He gave the ending to the story that he knew in that moment. He confessed how his hopes and dreams and desired ending to the story where now shattered.
They also told Jesus that there are rumors of his resurrection – that women in their group went to the tomb and found it empty and saw visions of angels who said that Jesus was alive. Others in their group went and found it as the women reported. Yet, Cleopas and his friend clearly don’t believe that story, because they are fleeing town. Heading back home. Reverting back to the familiar and comfortable story their lives had been enacting prior to Jesus.
At this point Jesus began to teach these two and show them how his story converged with God’s story. How his story was the fulfillment of what the prophets foretold. He began with Moses and worked his way through all the prophets and interpreted to them things about himself which is found in the scriptures. He showed them how his story and God’s story were one.
As they reached the village of Emmaus they invited Jesus to stay with them for the night. He does – and at dinner he took bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly these two know exactly who Jesus is – and he vanishes from their sight. This is once again – not a part of their expected story.
They realize what has happened and say to each other – “were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road? While he was opening the scriptures to us?” Suddenly their story becomes God’s story again – and they become ferocious Lions of God and race back to Jerusalem where they find the eleven apostles where they learn that Jesus has also appeared to Simon Peter.
Cleopas and his companion shared their story of engagement with the resurrected Jesus and how they came to realize that it was him – in the breaking of the bread.
That is a far cry from where they thought they were going and a far different ending to the story that they thought they knew. They believed what they experienced. Often in life we do the same. We believe what we know and what we have experienced. Our realities are our truths and our lived stories lead to our shared beliefs. These beliefs are our communal, lived stories.
Our stories are unique. Your story, my story, our story. Our unique stories are not stagnant or predictable, just as Cleopas & his companion’s story was not. Our stories are active and engaging and intersect with one another’s stories. There is nothing passive or still about a life of discipleship. Faith is an engaged, active, ever evolving, unpredictable, constantly moving aspect of our stories.
Faith is where God’s story, and your story, and my story all intersect to become “Our” story. And our story comes to its culmination in the same place that Cleopas and his companions story did – in the breaking of bread. In water, wine, and wheat Jesus joins us in our story. Is present, just as he promised he would be.
I give thanks to God every day that I get to be a part of our story. And today I give thanks that you get to be a part of our story… that we all get to be a part of God’s story. It is a beautiful life-giving story – that we are empowered to share with one another and with the world around us. So lets tell our story. Amen.