Luke 8: 26 - 39
My brother and sister in law were visiting yesterday, on their way north. My son and his girlfriend and my mom were over for dinner as well. You know how it is when you’ve got family or friends over. You tell stories while you cook. Christy had brought green beans from the farmer’s market. While she snapped beans, I made the rice and the guys grilled the mahi mahi. Christy started to tell us about a new vegie burger she liked. She obviously really liked it – and she told us all the details – it wasn’t trying to be meat, it was clearly a vegie burger – and it was stocked with veggies! A fava bean fell out of it when she was eating it! She told us where she bought it – Trader Joe’s – Where it was located in the store – the frozen section – What it had in it – tofu and vegetables – How you could eat it – in buns or tacos with salsa – Half way through her testimony, I was pretty sure that when I was at Trader Joe’s next, I would go to the frozen food aisle and see about these vegie burgers.
Testimony – Witnessing – it just means telling stories about how this happened to me, and it was really great– and I want you to know about it. It’s called viral marketing – people telling other people. It’s the kind of marketing that you can’t buy but every business covets it. It works far better than any advertising.
It’s how you and I came to faith. Someone, somewhere, let us know that this was important to them, and that something good, maybe even something miraculous happened for them through Jesus the Christ. I came to faith through a lot of people and stories – but the ones the jump to mind are a Sunday School teacher, Miss Emma, and a minister, The Rev. Vernon Story and a piano teacher, Mrs. Phyllis Corn. Did any of these people sit me down and tell me about Jesus? No. On my birthday, Miss Emma made me a little book that had nothing to do with religion - but it was as clear as day to me that the sweetness of her gift had everything to do with her faith. The Rev. Vernon Story talked about Jesus because it was his job – but what really communicated to me about his faith was the way he listened to me – and how I saw him really listening to a lot of people, some of whom didn’t like him very much at all. I don’t ever recall my piano teacher, Mrs. Corn, saying much of anything in particular about God, but I knew she sang in the choir and that music and religion were connected. If you think back into your own life, my guess is that there are people scattered throughout your history that told you their story – whether in words or actions or both - in a way that opened doors for you into your own faith journey. If you’ve ever been a part of a small group – maybe a bible study that meets consistently – you know that hearing how other people are making connections between what is in the book and what is in their lives is what really keeps you coming back week after week – it’s the personal stories that open doors for you keep to going deeper into your own life with God. It’s how we learn - from each other.
And it’s not just advertisers and marketers that know that. Jesus knew it too. When the man who had been healed of all those demons wanted so badly to get into the boat with Jesus and go with him into his next adventure – Jesus gently, but firmly, said “no. Go back home. Let everyone see you, see how you are healed, see what a difference there is in your life. Tell everyone what God has done for you.” And that’s what the man did.
Did he talk about it much? Well, I’m guessing that he did. It was a pretty dramatic turn around for him. It was worth a lot of corner store talk. But more than his talk – I’m guessing that what really piqued people’s interest and attention and respect – was the simple fact that something profound had happened to him. He was no longer dogged by truly awful demons. He was in his right mind. He was cleaned up and clothed. He was a full fledged disciple of this Rabbi teacher that had visited them. He didn’t have to say a whole lot to get their attention.
Still, the telling was in fact a big piece of what Jesus had sent him back to do.
“Go back home. Tell what God has done for you.” There was a small Episcopal church in the Midwest that called a priest, but had trouble paying it’s bills. Small was getting smaller. Now they are growing and thriving and vital. What happened? Pretty much only one thing. They began telling their stories. They began to adopt Pentecost ways – prophetic ways – which simply means they began to notice and to share what God was doing in their lives.
Now the truth is – that is not the way we normally see our lives. We don’t naturally have that grid – so to have stories to tell, we need to see with new eyes. And that’s what the people in this church began to do. They began to see with Easter eyes – which means they began to see the events and people and situations in their lives through the eyes of Resurrection – through the eyes of people with whom the Christ was living and breathing and present. And when they began to see their lives in this way, they began to have stories to tell – and they told them. To themselves. To each other. And the fire was lit.
The Vestry met this past week – and we did just that. Broke into groups of four, and told each other what God, through Christ, had been doing in our lives since the last time we met as a Vestry in May. We heard about everything from listening with Jesus’ ears to a grieving child, to being calm in the midst of major trials at work, to finding deep peace while making decisions. And you know what? We went on to conduct the business of the parish with listening ears, with calmness and deep peace – and a lot of laughter and joy. When we see our lives through the eyes of faith – through the eyes of people who are sustained by the living presence of the Christ in us and with us – and when we share that, so as to encourage each other, and build one another up – something happens.
There’s a song – remember music and religion go together?
C Em F G
It only takes a spark to get a fire going.
C F G
And soon all those around, can warm up in the glowing.
That's how it is with God's love,
Dm G Dm7 G Dm7 C
Once you've experienced it, you spread His love to everyone;
You want to pass it on.
We can do this. We do experience God’s love here. And we can pass it on. Ultimately, it’s what we have as a church. It is our primary mission. We don’t have to make anything up, or make anything bigger or better than it is. We don’t even have to tell it to strangers. Telling each other will do.
So what has God, through Christ, been doing in your life this past week?
Resources: Pass it On, by Kurt Kaiser