Recently at our church, we heard the story of a little-known Jewish rabbi meeting a Samaritan woman by a well. Hopefully, this story from the gospel of John is familiar, as Jesus demonstrates how God knows each of us intimately – to good, the bad, and everything else in between. And yet, even knowing all of our stories, God loves us anyway. It’s an extraordinary thing. No wonder the woman jumps up, forgetting her jar, which was the whole reason she had come to the well in the first place, and runs back to her town to share the news of the man who “told me everything I have ever done” (John 4:39).
In worship, we watched a spoken word poet interpret this story who repeated the phrase, “to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.” It’s true for all of us. To take the time to know someone is an act of love. And to love someone truly and honestly takes getting to know them. So how do we recognize and own our stories?
We are unique among all of God’s creation in that human beings are story-making creatures. We use stories to make sense of the world around us and experiences in it. To tell a story is to impart meaning to an event or series of events.
Consider your own life story. If I were to ask you to tell me about yourself, you would pick and choose which things are most important, most clearly definitive about who you are – your hopes, your grounding, your values. You might tell me about where you were born or about your family of origin, since those first few years leave deep imprints on all of us. Or you might start with your work or family, considering your current relationships and commitments the most important part of the story.
Storytelling has been a feature of all cultures in all ages. Through the stories they tell, people connect, establish their identity as a group, and been entertained and taught. Through stories, we pass on the legacy of memories, values, traditions, and beliefs from generation to generation. The stories we tell shape who we are and who we become.
Stories are not just for children, as we retell the stories of Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs. If we listen, most of our days are consumed with stories. We tell our friends or family members about our day, we cast plans for the future, we share news about loved ones. But now most of our stories come to us through television, movies, and other forms of media. And if we’re not grounded in our own story, in who we are and are striving to become, then we can easily “be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2).
So, where do you tell your story? More importantly, what story is the bedrock of your life? Much of the Bible are the stories of God’s ongoing involvement in the lives of God’s people. When we retell these stories, our faith is strengthened. Over time, God’s story of love and redemption in Jesus Christ becomes our story.
Over the season of Lent, our church has been reaffirming its foundational beliefs, those core stories that shape us as Christians and as United Methodists. This Sunday, we’ll take a look at our belief in the guidance of Scripture. The Bible is much more than the flat type on the page. It’s a library, a collection of various literary styles written over time, to capture the story of God’s people. In our encounters with Scripture, we believe it’s possible to hear the voice, see the ways, and receive the guidance of our living God.
We often prefer to bend the text to suit our present limitations, to prove our point, rather than let the story of God’s love for creation speak to us and, ultimately, transform us. Rarely does the Bible cooperate with our search for quick, easy answers or clear, simple ideas of God. Instead we are drawn into the complexity of our mysterious God, where our assumptions are challenged and we are pushed out of our comfort zones. The good news is that a better story awaits. Glory be.