Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 13, 2016
The 26th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28, Year C)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
The Stories We Tell

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For the better part of the last twelve months we, as a nation, have been telling our story.  As our political leaders and their rivals have swept across the country holding rallies and town hall meetings, we have heard story after story of who we are as a people.  In many ways, we have seen and heard the very best of our national community.  Taken as a whole, we have heard a story of remarkable diversity and passion, as the needs the near countless segments of our community have been brought to the fore.  Through it all we have heard stories of women and men, of coastal urbanites and rural miners, of whites and blacks and Latinos, of our great wealth and our tragically poor neighbors, stories of northerners and southerners and Midwesterners, of Muslins and Christians and agnostics – each a part of the great fabric of American society, and all part of that which makes the American story so significant and so admirable.

Told as a story of the beautiful complexion of our rich diversity, this is a extraordinary story.  Unfortunately, alongside this story of diversity in unity, we have also told a story of immense division.  Rather than simply drawing out our complexity and our various needs as a people, our individual stories have been pitted against one another to highlight divisions within our national community; and so we have been left with voting blocks that vie against one-another, rather than community needs and concerns that are shared by all.

To complicate matters, we have told another story or two.  Through this election cycle, as with every election cycle before this one, we have told and re-told a story of our fundamental relationship as a people:  that is, that we are fundamentally competitors for political power.  Understandable, necessary even, as it is in our democratic system, the effect is a near perpetual quest for political victory in a system that perpetuates political and national competition.  Consequently, even as we hear stories of our remarkable diversity as one people, we are left with a myriad of competitive divisions vying against each other in a quest for power.

Finally, while we hear a consistent message of universal hope – every candidate promises a platform and set of policies that will improve the lives of all – the effective story is often far more limited.  Unfortunately, while each and every candidate promotes a story of national uplift, the tangible hope is rooted in the acquisition of power.  In spite of the messages of change, the hope we see is rooted in acquisition of political power to effect a desired change.

Now, of course this not the entirety of the story we have told throughout this election cycle, let alone the totality of our national story, but it is, I am convinced, a significant part of it.  And the stories we tell, especially the stories we retell again and again, are stories that begin to shape us, stories that have the effect of making us who we are.

And so, we as a Christian people, have to be particularly careful, for while are national identity is as Americans (and proudly so, I hope), it is not, in truth, our first or even primary identity.  For before we are Americans, a Michiganders or Hawaiians, or even Van Culins and Mcgillicuddys – we are children of God and heirs with Christ.

And the story we tell as God’s children and Christ’s body in the world, is an essential, and fundamentally different, story.

To begin, our story is first a story of unity.  From the beginning of time, we reminded that human society – no matter how diverse and multifaceted we are or become – is one.  Formed from the clay of the earth, we are inherently united.  Together we form one family, spread far and wide, to be sure, but ultimately one.

Even more profoundly, we are reminded again and again through the story of our baptism that we are united not only by our common heritage as sons and daughters of Eve, but even more by our common place within God’s embrace.  As the refreshing waters of baptism are poured over a child’s head, we are reminded that God’s proclaims our blessedness on each of us, regardless of race or gender or nationality or status or wealth, and well before we proclaim our creed.  The unity we proclaim is more than simply our human heritage, it is the universal unity we know as children of God. 

This is the first story we tell – that we are one.  Whatever diversity we see among us it is an expression of the One who gives us life and makes us one in his image.

But there is another story as well, several more of course, but one more story of critical significance for us today. 

It is the story of our hope.  Unlike the quest of power, which inherently divides us against one another, Jesus tells us, lives for us even, another story of hope.  His is a twofold story.  To begin, it is the story of hope that Jesus tells is the story of sacrifice.  In the face of political, religious, and economic competition, Jesus casts another vision – a vision of a society, a people, rooted not in competition against one another but in sacrifice for one another.  So aware is Jesus of his unity to his neighbor, so true is the story of our common heritage to Jesus, that he is willing to sacrifice himself – his time, his food, his energy, his status and privilege, even his life, for anyone and everyone around him. 

  • Judas, who Jesus knows is about to betray him, has a seat still at Jesus’ table.
  • Peter, who renounces Jesus not once but three-times, is sought out by Jesus upon his resurrection.
  • Those soldiers who scourged and those crowds who mocked Jesus, are the very ones for whom Jesus lays down his life.

Faced, even then, with a story of hope rooted in the limited resource of power (political or economic), Jesus proclaims another story.  The hope Jesus knows and lives, is hope rooted in sacrifice, hope rooted in the giving up of one’s self for another – the giving up of one’s time, the giving up of one’s power, the giving up, even, of one’s wealth, for another.  This is not only the sacrificial story that Jesus tells, it is the sacrificial life that he lives.

This, too, is our story.  And it must become our life.

The easier part of any story is telling it.  The difficulty comes in the living.  The Christian community has told this story over and over again for nearly two thousand years, and we will continue telling it for two thousand more, not simply because it’s a good story, but because it is the story of who we must become.  We must tell it again and again so that we remember who we are – and because we must strive to become what we tell.

And that’s where we come in.  We are people within this story.  Our responsibility is not simply to retell that story, but to live it, to practice it here in this place and at home in our individual lives.  We must practice seeing everyone, but especially those with whom we disagree, with the same love and affection as we do our dearest family – for they are just that, part of our family and worthy of our affection, love, and care.

We must practice, too, the sacred art of sacrifice for another.  It is easiest to practice at home where are affections are most clear and most strong, and so must practice it there first.  But we must practice it here as well, where we are gathered together as a diverse community, a community of dear friends and odd strangers, a community of like-minded friends and sometimes angering acquaintances – but this place must be a place where the Jesus story of hope and sacrifice must be practiced.  If we cannot manage it here, how will we ever hope to spread it further?  And that is ultimately our purpose, to take this story and life of sacrifice into the streets, into the marketplace, into the country club, into the courthouses, into our schools, even into our political chambers.

But it begins with us.  It begins with us personally learning to sacrifice for our friends, then our neighbor, and even a stranger.  And it begins with us as a community, becoming the story we tell.