“We live within the story we tell” 04/23/2017 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Psalm 148 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
 Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
 Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

 Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!

 Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!

 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
old and young together!

 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
 He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!

Luke 24:13-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.  Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.  But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.  Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.  Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”  Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.  As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.  But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  They said 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?”  That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.  They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Let us pray.  Holy one.  Help us to see with your clarity not only who you are, but also who we are to be.  Strip away the distortions of our stories so that we may begin to live within the story you are authoring.   And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

There is something rather remarkable about us as human beings and that is that how we think about things can actually shape our experience of them.  The story that we tell about our experiences affect our experience of them.   Our beliefs, it turns out, have the power to shape our realities.

Psychology explains this phenomenon by pointing out how beliefs affect behaviors and how behaviors affect experience.  If we believe that there is really no hope in reversing global climate change then we will be less likely to participate in actions that actually could reduce global warming, but then seeing that nothing is changing our perceptions of the inevitability of a global climate catastrophe are reinforced.

Likewise, psychology tells us that what we believe about other people can also shape their behavior and then in turn reinforcing what we believe to be true about them.   If for example, I stood up here every Sunday morning and talked about the demise of mainline Christianity and how no one comes to church any more, (which is of course, not true, but bear with me), then pretty soon, I would bet that we would start to see our Sunday morning worship attendance fall off and I could then point to the falling off of our attendance as proof positive of what I had been saying, “that no one comes to church any more”,  is true.  Right?

The stories we tell can in very real ways create the realities in which we dwell.

Now we must be wary of an over simplification of this.  For an over simplification can lead to a blame the victim kind of reasoning – thinking that if something bad happens to you it is because you had the wrong kind of attitude about it.  We need to be careful not to oversimplify this because injustice and evil are real and are also powerful shapers of reality.  And also, sometimes things happen for which none of us will ever be able to understand.

But I have come to accept that there is truth in that we do live within the stories we tell ourselves.

And so on this Care of Creation Sunday, I want to deconstruct some old and unhelpful storylines we have been told regarding our relationship to the earth.

First is the story line of supremacy.  We have been living within the storyline that says “all the world is a stage.”  The created world is the stage upon which we get to play out the dramas of our lives and its sole purpose is support and facilitate our human existence.  Creation is our prop.  It is to be used our disposal and its purpose is to serve us.

How would our lived experience of creation be different if we picked up a different storyline?   What if we picked up that original story of creation where there was balance and harmony where each had what it needed and each had a place in the sweet shalom of God’s garden. What if we remembered the story that the psalmist sings in our psalm today where human were just one among many all joining together to sing praise to God who is supreme of all?  How would living that story, change our living?

Another story line we tell ourselves is of estrangement.  God does not really love us.  God is actually mad at us and so we have no choice but to make it on our own in this dog eat dog world.  Might makes right and domination is the only way of survival.  So it is a shame if some species go extinct or if wetlands are ruined or sacred waters threatened, but that is just the price that the price to pay in order to get by.

How would our lived experience of ourselves and creation be different if forgiveness not estrangement, if grace not domination were the story we lived?  What if we saw God not as a judging patriarch casting us out but as a loving parent, welcoming us and all creation home to a place of harmony and love?

Another story line we tell about ourselves and creation is control.  We are to be the authors of our destiny.  Our life is in our own hands. We pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  We are self made men and women.

How would our lived experience of ourselves and creation be different if we embraced our vulnerability?  What tenderness would arise if we were to be able to smile on our limitations and gently hold our pain without judgment and without blame?  What would it feel like and how would it change our relationship to each other and the world to rediscover that we are humus, of earth, and that humility not pride is the ground on which we are to stand?

What I love about the gospel passage this morning is that it is a story about the power of story, right?   It is about the disciples trying to figure out what story they are living in.  And it is about their breaking out of a narrative of their own construction and stepping into the story that God is authoring.

For it starts with them telling Jesus (who they do not recognize as Jesus) a story. “We had  hoped” they said that the story would have turned out differently.  They had hoped something new was happening, but despite the testimony of some women in their group, testimony that astonished them, they have let go of hope and have stayed within their narrative.

And then when they finish telling Jesus their story, he switches it up and the author of life begins to tell the disciples a new story.  A story that sets their hearts burning again with hope but a story that does not become real for them until they do something new.

For it is not enough just to listen to the new story.   At some point it is essential to make that new story our lived experience.  And that is what happens when the disciples make that crucial move.  They stop wonder and then reach out with radical hospitality and take this stranger in.  They have no idea that what they are doing is rewriting their reality, but it does finally become real to them at the table. The communion table where the story Jesus tells becomes the story the disciples live.  The old story is gone, a new story is experienced.  Jesus lives.  Hope is alive. Shalom, peace is possible.  Fear need not rule.  Redemption and resurrection is now.

It is a story that is now the disciples and they have to share it.  So they run back to Jerusalem with this new, life giving, redeeming, hope filled story on their lips. They tell it now because it is the story in which they are living and proclaim it so that all who hear it will live within it as well.

So what would it take for us to make the salvation of our planet the story we live into.  What bold action would it take for us to move from intellectual assent to embodied hope and action?  For ultimately the resurrection story is about hope and the new actions that come from that embodied hope.

So maybe that is our work to do.  What does the radical hospitality that will bring us into communion with all creation look like?  Can we step out of the storylines we have been told.  Can we stop and invite in a new way of thinking and being and then act upon that new way so the path of that leads to life, and healing and wholeness will be revealed for all of us and all creation?

We live within the stories we tell.  So may the story we tell be the one written by the author of all life.  A story of resurrection, hope and redemption.  And may we too have the courage to make it our own.

Thanks be to God. Amen.