Once upon a time. In the beginning. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. If music be the food of love, play on. Call me Ishmael. A good hook, or opening line, is what every storyteller searches to craft. These opening lines of well known tales draw in an audience. They cause our ears to perk up and our interest to be peaked. We cannot wait to hear what happens next.
In our sermon scripture for this morning we hear a great first line from Peter "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision." With those words Peter insures that his audience will listen. With those words he sets the stage for something different to arrive.
What follows is a beautiful story about his encounter with God through vision, prayer, people and the Holy Spirit. This story is so powerful, so convincing, that the leadership of Jerusalem experience a changed heart, just from hearing it!
Story is powerful. Story is life changing. Story is Gospel.
Think about that. What we have in the scriptures are stories. Stories so powerful they have passed the test of time. Stories crafted and handed down generation after generation. Stories that have changed the world one hearer at a time.
Peter's story is powerful and life changing. It is his story that he shares of his experience with God.
This experience has led to great discussions of theology, of justice, of worship planning, but it didn't start out as all of those things. It started out as his experience with God.
If Peter's story has had such an affect, what might our stories do? Now there is a frightening thought. We spend week after week listening to other ancient peoples stories, commenting on their message and success. But how often do we think about our own story?
We each have one you know. We each have had an experience that has changed the way we view God, the way we view ourselves, the way we view our neighbors. These encounters can become amazing witnesses for Christ if we share them as our stories of faith.
But something within us is scared to share them. Scared of judgement, of not being good enough, of being ridiculed. These fears keep God's story from spreading, they keep God's message from reaching new ears.
If Peter had let that fear stop him, his mission to the Gentiles would have ended with Cornelius and his family. We would not have the good news if fear of being reprimanded had kept him silent.
Right now I want you to think of an encounter you have had with God. Perhaps it was running out of fuel, but coasting to the station safely on fumes. Perhaps it was an angel among us story. Perhaps it happened on a hike, or in a hospital waiting room.
Now then, I'm going to ask you to do something really uncomfortable. I want you to turn to your neighbor and share this story right now. Go on, don't be shy, no one here is going to tell you you aren't doing it right.
How did that feel? What did you learn? Would you do it again?
Stories tell us about ourselves, about God and about our relationships to God and one another.
A good story makes us think, makes us reexamine our beliefs and search for truth.
I'd like to share a story with you about a time when I had my faith changed through an experience with God.
I have always believed that children have a special place in the family of faith. They are essential to the faith community. That being said, I'd usually limited the amount of participation I offered to children to Sunday School and the children's moment. Times when they were learning, or being cute.
Steve and I co-pastored a church in Knoxville when Zanna was very small. She often went with me on pastoral visits, and was the hit of any place she went, I might add. One afternoon when we were driving home from one such visit with an elderly man who would soon pass away, who kept saying "I'm okay, I've got Jesus in my heart" Zanna began asking questions.
-What did Mr. Fred say was in his heart Mommy?
How did Jesus get there Mommy?
Umm, Mr. Fred asked him to live in his heart honey.
Does Jesus live in your heart mommy?
Does Jesus live in Daddy's heart, mommy?
Jesus doesn't live on my heart. How can Jesus live in my heart mommy?
Long pause, well, you can ask him to come live in your heart Zanna. You can tell him you want to live your life for him and ask him to live within you.
Okay. (Long pause, whispers) Jesus, could you come into my heart please?
(Me, crying and trying to not drive off the mountain)
Listen mommy! Do you hear that?
Hear what baby?
Who's singing baby?
My Jesus, he's singing to me!
At that moment every belief I had about children's spirituality and relationship process flew out the window. In that moment I realized that children didn't have to wait until they knew the "right words" or prayers to become followers of Christ. I realized that claiming them as children of God is not for their benefit. It's for our benefit. God knows, they know, it's us grown ups that need the reminder.
Stories are powerful, they change lives, they change us.
So tell your stories this week. Share where you have encountered God! Share where God is shaking you up! Share the good news, in any form you dare!