Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
One of the real joys of parenthood comes as we read or tell stories to our children that are very familiar to us but entirely new to them. We know that the wolf does not eat Little Red Riding Hood, but our child does not know it until we get to the end of the story. If we are open to it, we have a chance to experience all over again the wonder, fear, anticipation, and excitement of the very first time you hear a story, especially one that makes a difference to your life. Again, if we are open to it, we also can hear and see things in the story that we missed ourselves, or have forgotten, for each child responds to stories differently.
In fact, in some families the constant telling, and retelling of stories is the way that they find togetherness. At funerals for instance one of the ways we learn to grieve and celebrate the person that passed is by telling stories about them. What is even more powerful is telling the same story after they are dead. Story telling has great power.
All preachers and teachers face this challenge of sharing the story of the great good news in such a way that old words, often too-familiar-words, become embodied with a richness that continues to form the spirits of those who hear them, as the returned exiles of Jerusalem and the people in the synagogue at Nazareth had the opportunity to do. Perhaps we would do well to remember that the story has a power all its own, without embellishment, as both Ezra/Nehemiah and Jesus showed us, and we need to be encouraged simply to tell it.
Like a good family story if we hear the story again and again, we might hear something new. There is great power in repeating old stories both in our preaching and in our lives.
The accounts in both Nehemiah and Luke give us an opportunity to see both sides of the hearing of a familiar story. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah together tell the story of the return of the people of Israel following exile in Babylon and liberation by Cyrus of Persia. During the long years of exile, many of the Hebrew people lost an understanding of their religious tradition as they assimilated into the culture of Babylon. Children were born who never learned the Torah. Yet some kept the traditions alive. On the return to Jerusalem, then, one of the first orders of business concerned reminding the people who they were and whose they were. Everyone gathered, as if for a great story time, and the scrolls of the law came alive again to people who may have heard pieces of the tale but not the fullness of God's mighty acts. Nor had they heard the fullness of God's expectations for them. Hence the weeping, perhaps.
Or perhaps the weeping came out of a collective re-awakening of the knowledge of God within the chosen people. Although we don't know exactly what was read that day at the Water Gate, I like to imagine it included not only the detailed instructions of Leviticus, but also the roller coaster ride of the story of Joseph and the grandeur of the tale of the Exodus and all the other tales of God's love and power. These formational tales of this people now had the chance to form them as God's servants all over again as they were told to people who may not have known them. The old, old story had new life through new ears hearing and new lives being shaped by it. For instance, if you listen to a favorite book as opposed to reading it you suddenly find that you hear and understand it in a new way. You suddenly discover things you did not pick up before. Suddenly an old, old story becomes new.
A slightly different situation met Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth. These people knew the stories very well, having heard them from childhood. But he forced them to pay attention to the familiar words so that they became a new message. When he applied the words of Isaiah to himself, suddenly he took them out of the realm of history, out of the realm of story altogether, and made them live in the present. He forced the people to receive the story as if hearing it for the first time, because he claimed to embody it. Of course, Jesus' story goes on to make clear that some could hear as he invited, and some could not. Perhaps for some of the people it was as if someone made a movie out of their favorite story, and they could not accept the tale being embodied or themselves being forced to see and hear it in a different way.
There is great power in telling a story again and again. As we experience more and more in life the stories that Jesus told, ones we have heard again and again seem to have greater significance. Jesus understood the power of telling a story again and letting his hearers listen with fresh ears.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
“I’m sorry. Someday I’ll be able to talk about her without breaking up,” the man assured my husband and me. Sitting across from him at a party, we were blessed to hear stories about his beloved wife who had died two years before. Tales of dances and car rides during their courtship, narratives of their years raising children together, and accounts of her cancer journey and final days – one by one he took these precious gems from the treasure chest of his memory and presented them to us. Woven throughout these stories were apologies and promises: “I’m sorry for bringing her up again,” “I won’t always cry when I think of her.”
Each time he interrupted his tales with one of these types of statements, my husband and I rushed to assure him that he did not need to apologize or explain. We welcomed his stories.
Sharing these stories with us was something he seemed to need to do; yet he felt bad about doing it. He judged himself and assumed that we would not be interested in listening. The truth is that both my husband and I felt honored to spend time with this gentleman and his tales. Through them, we felt like we were introduced to a lovely woman whom we will never meet, we were reminded of some valuable life lessons, and we felt enfolded in a love that surpasses death.
Each of those gifts, however, was a bonus of sorts for us, for we were not attending to these stories for our sake at all. We listened as our way to offer grief support.
In contemporary Western culture, it often seems that we have deemed the sole purpose of storytelling to be entertainment. If something shared with us does not grab our interest, we disengage. We get frustrated to hear stories repeated again and again. We have confused our role as listener with that of audience member.
To be sure, sometimes we do amuse one another with our stories; however, those of us who are bereaved have entirely different needs that can only be fulfilled when others hear to our narratives.
I listen to stories as grief support continually – and not just when I led bereavement support groups. If we pay close attention, we notice that such narratives are being shared everywhere during mourning: A young mother who longs to talk about her toddler’s death but whose family members tell her she needs to “move on”. The man whose parent, in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, no longer recognizes him. A minister whose spiritual community fell apart, leaving her without a family of choice and without anyone to listen as she navigates this rocky terrain of grief.
The bereaved and their stories are everywhere. Indeed, the other day, my daughter and I rushed into the grocery store to pick up “just one item”. Grabbing a loaf of bread in the bakery, we noticed an elderly woman with a motorized shopping cart; she was struggling to lift something off a shelf. When we offered to help, she replied, “Yes, please,” then paused and continued, “My husband always used to come shopping with me.” Glancing at my daughter, I sent her the non-verbal cues she has come to recognize as “Settle in; we are going to be here awhile.” And I asked the woman to tell me about her husband. She shared stories of their life together — of burnt toast and his long-dead mother, of his heritage and their home — not for my sake. I never even learned her name and likely will not see her again. She told these stories because she is grieving. And telling stories is often what grieving people do. (https://thewayofconsciousdeath.com/storytelling-grief-care/)
There are many benefits to storytelling. Stories that have meaningful messages can instill virtues in your child; they can make them aware of their own culture and roots, opening them up to their family’s customs and traditions. Storytelling can improve your child’s listening skills, language skills, and sharpen his or her memory. On a deeper level, however, telling your children family stories can help your child form his or her identity.
Halsey also says family story telling reinforces family characteristics and establishes the connection between generations in even the simplest way when, in a story, a child is told of characteristics they share with a parent or other relative. Studies show that children who know more about their family’s history have more control over their lives and higher self-esteem.
Psychologists Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions. Questions included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?
Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001 and taped several of their dinner table conversations. They compared the children’s results to several psychological tests the children had taken. The result? The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.
The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness. This health and happiness was highly attributed to the transferring of family history and information through the art of storytelling.
The New York Times published an article titled “The Stories That Bind Us,” a narrative by author Bruce Feiler. The narrative tells stories about the challenges Feiler faced at family parties that made him feel like the family was falling apart. The challenges included differences in parenting and overall tension surrounding child and parent behavior and interaction. The conflict led him to wonder what the “secret sauce” is that holds families together.
After much contemplation, Feiler determined the bottom line is, “if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.” Retelling these stories and moments to your children will help them, too, triumph through difficult times and focus on the positive ones. (https://www.friendslifecare.org/the-importance-benefits-of-family-storytelling/)
Parents have a lot of jobs. In addition to the paid work a parent might do outside the home, there are a million components to the caregiver role as well. We know them all well - in the summer, the more fun roles might include camp scheduler, picnic packer, 4th of July organizer, marshmallow roaster, hair stylist, backyard pitcher, and a million others. Of course, those are in addition to the less fun ones - chores enforcer, bedtime warden, bill payer, recycling sorter.
But there’s one role that can be overlooked in the effort to get all the other jobs done. And as much as I hate to add another thing to your plate, mama, we think this one is important. Good news is, it’s enjoyable too.
I believe that one of the most important roles a parent can take on is the role of family storyteller. Why is this one so meaningful? Because a child’s sense of well-being can be bolstered by their understanding of their family story and how they fit into it. Indeed, a positively-framed and fondly remembered set of stories can strengthen the bonds of all family members. These stories can provide protection against stormy family times as well.
This is probably why we as parents work so hard to create memories for our kids; why we know, intuitively, then experiences are more important than things. It is from these experiences that our stories come, stories we can tell each other for many years into the future.
With the advent of smartphones, parents can take hundreds of pictures and videos of their kids every day. Sometimes it’s easy to do, sometimes it’s a pain to remember - but usually, most parents end up with quite a collection of footage deep in their phones or far off in the cloud somewhere.
Ironically, although we are taking more footage than ever, capturing digital evidence of many beautiful moments, parents often don’t have the time to enjoy these memories. We forget or don’t know how to get out the evidence and tell our children the deeper, longer, nuanced stories that weave these moments together into a coherent narrative.
I see the benefits of family storytelling all the time in my line of work. I see small children overjoyed at the thrill of seeing themselves on screen. I see slightly bigger kids comforted by reliving a family vacation where they grew through shared experiences with their siblings. I see teenagers soften a bit, reflecting in the love they have always been given by their parents (even when they weren’t always ready to receive it.) I see families embrace gratitude as they reflect on a lucky, love-filled year gone past. Try to remember the funny details that make the stories uniquely yours. Don’t just show the most beautiful photos; instead, show the authentic moments that make you laugh and cry. Mix in not just beautiful stills, but also videos where you can hear their little voices, shrieks of joy, conversations with the siblings. Take time to savor not only the milestone moments like their first steps, but the unexpected ones as well - like dance parties after dinner or a quick hug in the hallway on the way to brush teeth.
Taking the time to tell and relive your family’s stories is meaningful and worthwhile. Of course, this task can be a lot to fit in with all the other “job responsibilities” of a parent. However, this part of your parenting must be one of the most pleasurable and rewarding. I hope you take the time to tell your stories to your children. Trust me, they will benefit from the sense of wellbeing that comes with knowing they are loved - and knowing they are part of something larger than themselves. (https://www.roseandrex.com/blogs/blog/tell-your-family-s-story-the-importance-of-family-narrative)
My friend Ian was a pastor in Australia during the Second World War, a time when many Allied soldiers came to that country for medical treatment or R&R. One day he discovered that a young woman in his parish had become pregnant through a liaison with a visiting soldier. His parish ostracized her and made her life a living hell. Very upset at their lack of charity or forgiveness, he wanted to find a way to communicate with them that God's love extended to this girl and her child. Instead of writing a vehement sermon, he decided to let the story speak for itself. He stood at the pulpit the next Sunday and read the story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, and he read it with great emotion and skill. Then he closed the book, stood silently looking at the congregation, and sat down. Some months later that church welcomed the young woman and baptized her baby.
The third verse of Katherine Hankey's great hymn "I Love to Tell the Story" sums this up beautifully. "I love to tell the story, for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest."
An apocryphal story about Oscar Wilde puts a rather different spin on hearing the story as if for the first time. Wilde was outspoken about his atheism at a time in England when everyone was expected to be part of a church or synagogue. The story goes that Wilde sat for his examination in Greek at University and was given the passages preceding the crucifixion in Luke to translate aloud to his instructor. He translated perfectly, but as his instructor closed the book and got up to leave, Wilde is purported to have said, "Oh no, can we not read on and discover what happened to the unfortunate fellow?"
An English professor at a college on Long Island once lamented that his students seemed incapable of reading Shakespeare with any real appreciation either for the beauty of the language or the power of the plots. Finally he realized the problem; the students had become too familiar with small pieces of Shakespeare through the integration of phrases and idioms into our everyday language. One student looked at him one day and said absolutely seriously, "Well, Shakespeare's okay I guess but he uses too many clichés."
In Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's retelling of the Joseph stories in the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the narrator reminds all of us at one point that we know already how this story will end. Just at the point when Joseph is thrown in prison by Potiphar and begins to give up hope, the narrator and chorus sing, "We've read the book and you come out on top." Knowing the end of the story does not take away any of the dramatic tension because of the skillful way the musical tells the tale. Just because a story is familiar doesn't mean it cannot engage and enthrall us.
The title of Marcus Borg's book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (San Francisco: Harper, 1994) encapsulates what can happen as we encounter the story anew at different times in our lives. At each stage of our lives if we are open to meeting the story with new questions, we encounter yet more facets of an eternally complex God.
The film A League of Their Own starring Madonna and Geena Davis, tells the true story of the women's professional baseball league which operated during the Second World War when so many male players were serving in the military. The film is billed as a comedy, so my husband was shocked when he looked at me at the end of my first viewing of the movie to see me crying. "It's not that it's a sad story," I told him, "it's just that all these years I never knew that this had really happened. All those years I was not allowed to play Little League baseball because I was a girl, no one told me women had once played professional baseball." I wept because although this was an old story to some people, it was a new one to me, and one that I wished I had heard long ago.
Perhaps one of the most difficult places for the old story to be truly alive, ironically, is in the Holy Land. So many tourists from the world over have gone there to walk the stones that Jesus walked, so lost in the story as history that they never see the living stones of God walking the streets of Jerusalem or Bethlehem today. When I went into the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jesus, of course, was not there, for he is risen. I did, however, encounter the living Jesus in a group of Palestinians and Israelis who met weekly in a suburb of Bethlehem to try to work out the deep divisions between them. They did not just read or remember the story; they embodied it.
One of the most striking things about talking with the indigenous Christians of the Holy Land is their sense of the story as alive, constantly being made new in their lives. When we talked with a Christian man in Beit Sahour, the town of the shepherd's fields of the Christmas story, he illustrated a point he was making about the current situation by saying, "When Jesus was here…." I had the sense that he said that as though Jesus had been exactly there very recently and his presence of love and justice was still felt deeply and intimately by the community of believers descended from the first disciples.
In the American South during the years of slavery, some slave owners sought to do what they called "civilizing" their slaves by teaching them about Christianity. Some even taught slaves to read in English and gave them Bibles as their primers. One of the unintended consequences was that slaves heard the story of the Exodus and understood God's power and desire that slaves be made free. Many spirituals from this time celebrate the possibilities of freedom using this old story given new context.
The words of Isaiah, read by Jesus in his hometown synagogue, could describe the vocation of the crusading Irish journalist Veronica Guerin. In the film of that name she risks her life in exposing the criminal activities of a major drug lord who lives off the back of the poor and needy of the slums. Veronica visits the neighborhood where the poor and the oppressed are held captive to the drugs supplied by agents of the crime lord. He lives in a fabulous mansion, while they live in rat-infested squalor, their children playing amidst cast-off needles and drug deals made in broad daylight. Veronica also tries to call at the home of the drug lord. This so enrages him that he gives her a severe beating for her boldness. Her family and colleagues warn her to back off from her reporting, and after she is beaten and shot by a goon, they try to protect her, but she will not relent in writing her newspaper exposes. Finally the drug lord orders her shot, but her death backfires on him, arousing the public, and at last, propels the government to pass laws that enable the police to fight the drug gang effectively. The drug lord loses his mansion, wealth, and his freedom-all because a brave woman followed her journalist's vocation "…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free."
John Wesley was a firm believer in taking the biblical message to where people were in order to help them to hear it, perhaps for the first time. As a result, Wesley did not limit himself to one pulpit. Rather he was constantly on the move throughout England, and even spent a period of his life traveling in the American colonies. It is estimated that between 1739 and his death 52 years later, Wesley traveled about 4,000 miles a year, for a lifetime total of approximately 280,000 miles. All that was accomplished without the availability of cars, planes, or buses.
The first sermon that Jesus preached was a rather bold sermon. History has shown that first words tend to be the most memorable. After all, almost everyone recognizes "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" as being the first words of the Bible. Charles Dickens began Tale of Two Cities with "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." Herman Melville started his classic Moby Dick with the memorable sentence: "Call me Ishmael." And Leo Tolstoy began Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
Being able to read the Bible was a skill that at one time might have saved your life in England. "Benefit of clergy" is a term that was established in the twelfth century in England. It applied to the exemption that Christian clerics enjoyed from criminal prosecution in the secular courts. By claiming benefit of clergy, clerics were able to escape the harsher penalties that were generally meted out by the secular courts. By facing judgment before an ecclesiastical court, the stiffest penalties usually involved degradation and the imposition of penances. Ecclesiastical courts did not issue death sentences. As a result, many criminals attempted to pose as clerics in order to reap that benefit for themselves. Eventually benefit of clergy was extended to everyone who was able to read at least one verse out of the English Bible. In 1576 the ecclesiastical courts in England lost all jurisdiction over criminal acts. Under that new system, clerics were tried in secular courts, but the "benefit of clergy" meant that the severest penalties they faced were being discharged from their ministry or being sentenced to one year in prison. Early in the eighteenth century the reading test was officially abolished and the "benefit of clergy" could generally be claimed by anyone upon their first felony conviction. The benefit of clergy was the main way that the severity of English law was mitigated. Originally the death penalty was the official penalty for many offenses that today would seem trivial. In the early nineteenth century English law was revised and the benefit of clergy was abolished since it was viewed as no longer being necessary. Today the term "benefit of clergy" has come to mean something that has been sanctioned by the clergy, particularly as in the phrase "marriage without benefit of clergy."
Jesus announced that part of his mission was to bring healing and to free those who are oppressed. There are occasions throughout history when certain people have been diagnosed with "diseases" as a way of keeping them oppressed. During the eighteenth century a frequently diagnosed condition was neurasthenia. The condition was particularly prevalent among women. The symptoms were considered to be extreme fatigue, muscle aches, mental confusion, chills, and fever. Later research suggested that the condition was probably brought about by a particular virus or by food poisoning. In 1881, however, George Beard, who was considered to be the preeminent expert in dealing with neurasthenia, declared that the condition was due to modern technology and the education of women. As far as he was considered, neurasthenia provided living evidence that the newly developed technologies and the women's emancipation movement had truly harmful effects on the public.
Bringing recovery of sight to the blind was a component of the ministry that Jesus announced for himself. Mike May was blinded by an accident at the age of 3. Forty-three years later, in 2000, doctors were able to implant stem cells in one of his eyes to help re-grow the surface and then implant a new cornea. The medical experts discovered that because May had lost his ability to see early in life, he also lost the ability to process visual information in the way that sighted people take for granted. May was able to recognize simple forms and movement, but he was not able to identify faces or objects. According to a report last year in Nature Neuroscience, when May looked at objects, the part of the brain that deals with complex visual images showed almost no activity. Today May is working to learn how to interpret what he sees, much in the same way that people who learn a foreign language must learn to interpret the meaning of words they have never seen before.
Although Jesus announced the commencement of his healing ministry, the need for that work to go on even today continues. By 1952 penicillin was believed to be fully effective against all strains of staphylococcus bacteria. The enthusiasm over the drug was so great that in the early 1960s the U. S. Surgeon General, William Stewart, boldly announced: "The time has come to close the book on infectious disease. We have basically wiped out infection in the United States. Yet even as he was speaking, the bacteria cells were busily at work mutating and developing a resistance to penicillin. In fact, around 90% of those bacteria strains are now immune to penicillin. Apparently the Surgeon General had declared victory a little too quickly.
To bring healing to those who suffer can take its toll on those who seek to minister in that way. A recent study conducted at Ohio State University found that spouses who care for a loved one with Alzheimer's Disease are more susceptible to disease. The main cause of that, scientists believe, is the chronic stress the caregivers are forced to deal with. That's an example of people who truly worry themselves sick. Stress has been shown to weaken a person's immune system, thereby making it more likely for sickness to strike. In particular, long-term caregivers were shown to have dramatically high levels of Interleukin-6 in their blood, which has been linked to such conditions as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, and some forms of cancer.
When the oppressed are set free, do they have a right to some form of compensation from those who had formerly oppressed them? That is a question that the nation of Haiti is exploring. Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, has floated the idea of seeking to collect reparations from France, its former colonizer. Right now Haiti has Haitian, American, and French lawyers looking into a plan, which would demand about $22 billion from France for past wrongs. Beginning in 1838, Haiti paid France 90 million gold francs in order to compensate the plantation owners and to get France to recognize Haiti's independence. France refuses to return that money, and they blame Haiti's current problems on a poor government and a bad economy.
Release to the captives was one of the objectives that Jesus believed God had given him. One of the most active Christian ministries to prison inmates today is Prison Fellowship Ministries, which was founded by former Nixon staff member Charles Colson. Prison Fellowship currently has active programs in the prison systems in Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, and Texas. The program lasts 18 months, during which time it is a kind of moral boot camp for prisoners before they are ready to be released. They are given job-skill training and go through drug treatment, but the main emphasis of Prison Fellowship is on developing a Christian worldview that is able to transform the prisoners into different persons. Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed suit against the program that is being run in Iowa. They claim that it is a blatant affront to the separation of church and state. Supporters of Prison Fellowship, though, point out that the program is entirely voluntary. The lawsuit contends, however, that participants in the program are given special treatment. But it is not unusual for inmates to be granted certain kinds of bonuses and incentives for taking part in activities that will make them more able to be productive citizens after their prison time has been completed. The states do fund the non-religious part of the Prison Fellowship program, but all of the religious content is underwritten by private donations. Prison Fellowship has a documented success rate. Only about 8% of those who go through the Prison Fellowship program are re-incarcerated. In contrast, about 60% of all former inmates eventually spend more time in prison.
People today get deluged with so many messages seeking their attention, it's often difficult to get them to pay attention to and hear the message of the Bible. For instance, more than half of all e-mails are spam. According to the net filtering firm MessageLabs, somewhere around 55% of all e-mail messages that travel the Internet are unsolicited communications. The junk messages are a major nuisance for anyone with a computer, and they cost many companies huge amounts of money in lost time and productivity. According to a recent survey done in England, spam ranked right behind traffic jams and long working hours as what causes the most stress for British workers. Some Internet service providers, such as AOL and MSN, are now offering programs that will block unwanted mail. Lawsuits instituted by Microsoft and AOL are also making their way through the court system in an attempt to put spammers out of business. Starting this past October, the European Union issued a directive making unwanted e-mails illegal across the member nations.
"You cannot criticize the New Testament. It criticizes you." (John Jay Chapman)
"All the knowledge you want is comprised in one book, the Bible." (John Wesley)
"It is one thing to be told that the Bible has authority because it is divinely inspired, and another thing to feel one's heart leap out and grasp its truth." (Leslie Weatherhead)
"When you read God's word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, 'It is talking to me, and about me.'" (Soren Kierkegaard)
"If a man is not familiar with the Bible, he has suffered a loss which he had better make all possible haste to correct." (Theodore Roosevelt)
"Ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ." (Jerome)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God's handiwork.
People: Day to day pours forth speech, and night-to-night declares knowledge.
Leader: There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard.
People: Yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
All: May we tell and celebrate Your story this day, O Lord, by our words, our songs, and our deeds, so that both heavens and earth will resound with the praise of Your name!
O God, too often we have heard "the old, old story of Jesus and his love" as if it were a fairy tale suitable for children, but not relevant for the "real world." We have at times dismissed his call to oppose hatred and violence with love and nonviolence, believing instead that in a "dog eat dog" world this would be weak and futile. We ignore his call to help those in need. Enlighten our minds and hearts through Your Spirit that we might hear the old story anew and so lift our lives above the morass of the fallen world and make a difference wherever You would send us this week. This we ask in the name of that one who disturbs the peace of complacency, Jesus Christ, whom we call "Lord." Amen
We read in Your book stories of generous people who gave so much to You, such as the widow and her penny. We pray that these gifts which we bring now have been so motivated, given cheerfully and in love, because we know that they support and extend the ministry of love and compassion, begun long ago when Your Son walked among us. Amen.
O God, although in Your word You have given us many laws and commandments, it is in the stories of Your gracious acts that our hearts are truly stirred and our present values and ways challenged. We ask again that You help us to hear the old stories of Scripture with fresh ears, especially the story of Your son's life, death and resurrection. As Jesus proclaimed that the day of deliverance had begun with him, so may that day dawn personally for us. May we respond in faith to the old stories, rather than with the skepticism of the listeners at the synagogue in Nazareth. We thank You that You have called us into a fellowship of believers with each of us living out Your story. We pray for the church, so diverse in its ways, and yet joined together by Jesus Christ. May it be a light for a disunited world still following old and divisive ways. As followers of the compassionate Christ we pray for the sick and the oppressed, the lonely and the poor. May we be a part of Your reaching out and bringing hope, compassion and relief to them. Keep our eyes and our ears wide open, that we may we see Your story of gracious love being told, often unknowingly, by the artists, story tellers, poets and filmmakers of our day. We give thanks that everywhere, and in every place, You have raised up witnesses to Your truth. In the name of Christ, the great storyteller, we pray. Amen.