FEBRUARY 2, 2020 – WE CAN’T NOT TELL OUR STORY

Text: Matthew 5:1-12

You can’t not tell your story. That has been one of the most important learning in my clinical pastoral education training. Everyone has a story. That’s a fact. And everyone wants to be heard. If we believe that, and if we take time to listen to each other’s story, we can bring about a meaningful change to our lives and our communities. It’s not that some people have stories while others don’t.

It’s that some stories are more evident than other stories. It is true that some people are more vocal than others, but even those of us, who are reserved, can speak the loudest with body language. The question is how we can listen those stories that are not obvious.

Every Tuesday I go to visit patients in the hospital as a part of my training. Almost all patients are polite and appreciative of the visit, but not all of them are open. Some of them are very clear that they don’t want a visit, and I usually respect that. By setting a clear boundary, patients can feel empowered. Often spiritual care is the only service they are entitled to say no, and still feel okay. There are times, however, I can sense that they are still spiritually hungry even if they say no. They say one thing, but usually mean another, and it’s my job to figure out what it is that they are looking for.

I encountered a self-proclaimed atheist who said to me, “I am the most serious atheist you can get.” We ended up spending the next 40 minutes talking about his life, community and family including his daughter who was baptized. On another occasion, I was told that I was welcome to stay only for 10 minutes and after that I could leave her room with a prayer. We ended up spending more than 1 hour together with her daughter who was present in the room. It was one of the most meaningful and spiritual conversations I’ve ever had.
You can’t not tell your story. If we are willing to listen to not only spoken words, but behind or beyond the spoken words, we can still communicate in a deep way. For, heart speaks to heart, spirit speaks to spirit and deep speaks to deep.

Sometimes we tell our story by telling someone else’s story. Someone I knew came to see me one day. Entering my office, she began to tell me a news she recently heard. It was a story of how a terrible incident turned into a story of forgiveness and redemption. A police officer in the US killed a man, who was mistaken as a suspect. The family of the deceased offered forgiveness to the officer. While listening to her story, I was wondering what’s going on with her. Later I became convinced that she was actually telling me her story by sharing someone else’s story; she believed in a miracle of forgiveness and redemption despite the challenge and hardship she was going through.

Stories are often told on an unconscious level. We don’t always know why we tell stories. So, pay attention to what you say or hear. You will get to know more about yourself and those you care about by hearing stories. Look around you and see if you know anyone’s story, who is here. Can you hear above and beyond what you can hear? Can you enter into a heart to heart communication with those around you? What kind of story do you find yourself telling others about our church? If God tells the world about Fort Garry United Church with a story, what kind of story would that be? Or if God sings a song to the world about us, what kind of song or hymn would that be?

On the surface level, we are definitely an aging congregation. Our volunteers are getting tired and irreplaceable. The demographic gap between Sunday morning and the rest of the week is significant. On a deeper level, however, we are more than a grandma’s or grandpa’s church. You have demonstrated God’s unconditional love by welcoming, caring, embracing and nurturing without limits. You have proven to be generous in sharing with life-long commitment and dedication. You are the most musical congregation I know. Passion for spirituality and concern for justice have always been at the heart of the life of the congregation. What comes with aging is wisdom and a wealth of experience that the younger generation desperately needs. We have learned that we can’t care for one another and ourselves without caring for where we belong. Caring for all creation is our ultimate vocation. Still, we are more than all of the above. None of us can tell our story to the fullest. However imperfect our story may be, it can be complete, whole and full in the light of God’s story.

That is what happens in the Sermon on the Mount. Most of those who have followed Jesus all the way from their hometowns to the mountain are sick with various diseases and pains. They are marginalized and outcasts. They know the pain of loneliness and rejection. They probably have lots of stories to tell: how they are poor in spirit, how they mourn, how they are meek, and how they hunger and thirst for righteousness. Yet, none of their stories are complete until they are told as part of God’s story. What they are lacking because of their social locations opens them up to the new spiritual realm. They can reclaim their identity not by what they do but by whose they are. And based on that, they can strive to make right relationships with everyone and everything.
We can’t not tell our story however imperfect it may be. The question is how Jesus would complete our story. Blessed are we, as we all take part in God’s life-giving and never ending love story.