When the story got to me, I imagined my grandfather, 10 times the size he really was, muscular and wild eyed, perched atop a battleship yelling tally-ho or something like that, and it made sense that he was singlehandedly responsible for the end of World War II.
These are the stories we tell and they create a legend.
When my son was five, he went to an outdoor birthday party and they served chocolate cake. My son does not like chocolate and would probably prefer green eggs and ham if given a choice. Not realizing what the cake was made of, my boy took a bite and then quietly put the plate down.
Rather than saying that he just didn’t like chocolate, he replied: “No, I’m allergic”. And with that the parents hosting the party went over to my wife and apologized profusely, to which Jenn replied: “He’s not allergic, he just doesn’t like chocolate!”
When the story got to me, I imagined a tidal wave of people rushing towards Jenn, knocking over strollers, lawn chairs, small children to alert her to the fact that our poor allergic son was in imminent danger of experiencing anaphylactic shock. And when she told them the truth that there was no allergy, I imagined the wave receding, baby dolls and strollers with broken axles left in its wake.
These are the stories we tell and they make us family.
A man once walked the earth preaching peace, love, and reconciliation. He looked at the world around him and disagreed with what he saw. And he talked about it. He went from town to town, village to village, from Galilee to Jerusalem and he preached about a better world, a better human, a better life.
This man was then put to death in a most agonizing and cruel way for he was nailed to boards and then propped up on those pieces of wood to await a final breath that would take hours for him to breathe. The people around him watching the crucifixion mocked this man. They taunted him. In response to this, the man forgave his executioners. And in front of this man, as he struggled against death, his mother watched, the woman who loved him from his first day, who birthed him in spite of danger to herself and raised him and loved him and loved him always until forever.
When this story finally got to me, I didn’t focus so much on the violence of his death but rather the miracle of his life. That a man would so willingly point out the wrongs that surround us in order to save us astounds me. That this man stood up against those wrongs and knowingly risked his life to do so fills me with hope that there are such people around us today. And not only was he man, he was the son of God. We worship him today, this day and every other day and we call him Jesus Christ.
These are the stories we tell and they make us aspire to holiness.
A group of people once gathered to tell the story of this man who gave his life for us. And they told his story over and over and they aspired to holiness. They reenacted the some of the most important parts of the story. They acted as Christ told them to act. Some would seek shelter in a wilderness and they were known as hermits. Others would preach to those unfamiliar with Christ and they were known as missionaries. Still others would lead a group of the likeminded and they were known as priests. And all of them, from the bishop to the priest to the laity would seek to be more holy.
And over time, they told the stories some more and this man who sacrificed everything for us became legend. These stories connected everyone to each other. The story of ultimate forgiveness grew. The story of a man’s resurrection grew. The story of a man who promised us salvation, this legendary tale of a man was told first by his apostles and then shared throughout the ages, passed down by word of mouth then read in books. At the heart of this legend is a fantastic truth and it unites here today as it united those we read about in Acts this morning.
And when these stories of a God who became man reached me, I understood them to be stories that became enmeshed in our very humanity for the stories define us as Christian and we seek out goodness in others and in ourselves. Indeed it completes our very humanness. For without wanting holiness, for without the stories that map our family tree, without the legend, we are more separate, less whole, less human.
And today, these are the stories we tell and they define what it means to be human.
We are not islands. We are not on this earth a lone person floating in the sea. We are a part of a community. We are all brothers and sisters and we are each other’s keeper.
In southern Africa there is a philosophy called Ubuntu. It is a philosophy of a shared humanity that reads: I am, because of you. Read another way, you can say: Because of you, we are. Basically, we are all in this together and I thought of Ubuntu when I read Acts in preparation for this sermon.
They were not just there for communion though, not just there for worship. Instead they were building relationships, telling the stories of the wonderful things being done by the apostles. These stories bound them together. Their community grew stronger. Again, from Acts:
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
None of this has changed. We still give what we can, be it cereal, be it toothpaste, be it food, money, clothes, time, talent, you name it, we still give what we can to those in in need, just as those we read about in Acts did 2000 years ago. And we give with glad and generous hearts.
And to this day, we tell the stories of the Apostles and the wonders they performed and we tell the stories of Jesus and the miracles he performed and we praise God and look for the goodwill of all people.
And then the final line of this part of Acts reads: “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved”. And to me that is why we are here. Not just to add to our numbers or the numbers of our pledges, but to add to ourselves, to our very singleness. To help others see the light of Christ and to hear their stories. And we will not only ask others to join us, but we will join them on their journeys. As they strive towards salvation, so too will we. And because of them, we are.
Because of these stories and in sharing the stories, we are coming together as one body, each an individual part of the entirety that we define as humanity. Because of these stories, we are.
Those stories, those stories are such a great part of being a member of this. For so long I was able to wander along in life bouncing from place to place which is fine for a while, but until I came to St. Paul’s I did not truly feel whole. There was always that nagging sense that there was something else, something more to this world and I found it here. I found it in the stories told at dinners, at the overnight stays, on vestry, in conversations held in the hallway, on work days. I hear them every Sunday as we worship together and in quiet moments of reflective prayer. Every Sunday, I am reminded how wonderful it is to be a part of a community that is defined by love and I so enjoy hearing the words from so many. For you see, because of those stories, because of you, we are. And because of we, I am.