June 16, 2013
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
This morning I want to talk about buses, children’s TV, Jesus, and why the United Church of Christ is the way it is. Not necessarily in that order.
One of the benefits of having a toddler is knowing lots of kids’ TV shows. I give thanks to God that I do not live in the age of Barney the dinosaur! One of Mira’s favorite shows is Super Why! As children’s TV goes, it is not bad. It teaches letters, spelling, words, and stories. The piece that fascinates me is how they approach stories.
The main characters all come from famous nursery rhymes. When they run into the usual problems that children encounter, their solution is to go look in a book for a story that helps them find a solution. (Imagine a preacher liking this!) When they enter the story they become superheroes with superpowers. They can use the alphabet to create words or to spell new things.
One thing they always encounter is that the characters in the story have to follow their scripts. If the story is a knight and a dragon, and it says that the knight is scared of the dragon, then that is the story the knight has to follow. The knight will be stuck forever afraid of the dragon, because that is the story. Here is where the coolest of their superpowers appears. One hero can rewrite the story. he can change some of the words. So instead of the knight being scared of the dragon, the knight can scare off the dragon.
The solution to the problem always involves telling the story differently than the way we have always told it. Therapists and social workers know about this. They call it reframing. Of course it is much older than that. This is what Jesus did all the time. He allowed people to tell their stories differently than how they have always told them, or how everyone else tells their story. Encountering Jesus means telling our story differently.
All we know about this woman in the Gospel this morning is that she is a “woman of the city and a sinner.” The church has speculated for years that this may mean she is a prostitute. The reaction of the Pharisee lets us know that everyone has been telling her story one way.
It is equally clear from her over-flowing gratitude to Jesus that he has somehow let her tell her story differently than before. Encountering Jesus has changed her, healed her, let her change some of the words in her story.
The Pharisee’s objections speak volumes:
If this man were a prophet, he would
have known who and what sort of
woman this is who is touching him, for
she is a sinner.
This is where I start to see how important the United Church of Christ is, not just in my life, or in the life of this congregation, but in the life around us.
One of our church members, who left a more strict tradition, gave me a great way to illustrate this. His old church talked about being “on the bus” or “off the bus”. If you are following Jesus and following all the paths of righteousness and are being good and holy and believing all the right things, in the right way, then you are on the bus.
But if you start to question things, if you start to doubt, or don’t believe exactly as you are supposed to, the church is quick to point out that you are in danger of being put off the bus, or falling out the emergency exit door in the back. Or being pushed.
There are a lot of bus churches around. You are either on the bus headed to heaven, or you are off the bus. And if you have to ask, you are probably off the bus; or at least in danger of falling off. The one who gave me this metaphor said that for years he was barely hanging on to a rope being dragged behind this particular theological bus.
Because we make a wide welcome for all of God’s children, the United Church of Christ is often spoken about by such churches the same way the Pharisee thought about Jesus: If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.
If the UCC were really a God fearing, Bible-reading, Jesus-following church, they would know who and what they are letting in for these people are sinners. They would not advocate for all people being equal in the eyes of God. They would know who was on the bus and who was off it, and quit jeopardizing the bus by letting everyone on.
I believe we are a God worshiping, Bible-reading, Jesus-following church precisely because we are not a church that says you are on the bus or off the bus. We are more like the people who come along the roadside and pick people up who have been pushed off such buses, or who never were offered a ride in the first place, and we help them dress their wounds and we say, “Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
We believe that God makes it possible for us to tell our stories differently. We believe that Jesus does this not just for the good churchgoing types, but for everyone. We believe that the Holy Spirit can change words in our stories so we do not have to live by old scripts, worn out expectations, or the ways of death.
For the woman in our story, whose name we never know, her story was “woman of the city” and “sinner.” But Jesus let her change her story. What stories have we told for too long? What stories about ourselves or those around us have we kept listening to, even after they no longer fit, no longer worked, no longer gave life?
And what story do we want to tell? Jesus lets us tell our stories differently than we have ever told them or heard them before. We celebrate this because this is new life, this is hope, this is resurrection.
If the UCC were really a God-fearing, Bible-reading, Jesus-following church, wouldn’t they know what kind of people they are letting in being so open? Yes, we do know what kind of people we have here. People whose stories are not done yet, people whose chapters and verses are being rewritten by the love of God, the giving of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit. People who for the first time hear that the love of God is for them, yes even them; for us, yes even us.
Like the woman with the alabaster jar, what response can we have but thanksgiving?
Thanks be to God.