Telling the story

Pentecost 4
(
Mark 5:21-43)
Marian Free

In the name of God whose story is our story. Amen.
During the week I attended the Public Affairs Committee of the National Church. The role of the committee is to consider the church’s response to public issues – climate change, nuclear weapons, the Northern Territory intervention and so on. Not small matters, but matters on which the church could have a voice.
At the beginning of the meeting the Archbishop of Melbourne, Phillip Freier addressed us. Among other things, he suggested that the church had lost its confidence in ourselves and in our story. In the face of declining numbers we have begun to look inward and have stopped relating to the world. He encouraged us to revisit or retell the narrative to rediscover the ways in which our story connects with the story of the world around us.
It is true that over the past fifty years or so that we have had a crisis of confidence. In the face of declining numbers and increasing criticism, we have tended to become less sure of ourselves, more conscious of our very obvious flaws and more self-deprecating. Our willingness to be open to the experience of others has sometimes meant that we have played down our own experience and the wealth of wisdom that we have to bring to the table. Our lack of sophistication in interpreting our story has sometimes meant that we have been unable to respond adequately to the charges laid against us, especially that of hypocrisy. There has been a tendency to be ashamed of where we have failed and a failure to be proud of where we have succeeded.
In order to fully engage with the world and to share our story, it is essential that we know our own narrative.
First of all, we need to know and understand the story of our faith as it is revealed in our scriptures. What do we really know about what they say and what they mean? How do we engage with the passage that are challenging and confronting? Are we in a position to explain such difficulties to others? Do we really understand what Jesus was about and can we share with others Jesus’ teachings and actions?
Secondly, it is important to know the history of the church of which we are a part. That includes being honest and accepting the good with the bad. Yes – we were involved in the Crusades and we cannot deny the Inquisition. Yes – the church is just as vulnerable as other institutions to sexual abuse and to abuse of power. Our past is not all good. It reflects the fact that our members are human and that adherents of any religion are not immune to the seductions of power and wealth. At the same time, let us not forget the selfless actions of thousands and thousands of faithful Christians who have built schools and hospitals for the poor, worked with lepers and aids victims, insisted on the abolition of slavery and stood with the poor and the outcast. There is much in our history – and our present – of which we can be justly proud. Being honest about our failings does not mean being silent about the contribution we have made and continue to make in the world around us. We must know our own story so that we can see how our story interacts with the story of our surrounding culture and what it is that we have contributed.
Further, it is important that we understand what our story means, that we are able to give meaning to our story. That is, we have to know and understand our theology. What does it mean for example, that Jesus ends the suffering of a woman and heals a small girl? We all know that first century miracles are not necessarily convincing for 21st century sceptics. On the other hand, a God who not only enters our experience, but pays attention to what is going on and responds to pleas for help may well speak to those who lives are empty of meaning. A God who feels the touch of a woman in the crowd and goes out of his way for a 12 year old girl, is a God who is as interested in the small things as well as the big. When we know our story and what it means, we will be able to make connections between our story and the stories of those around us.
Our central story, is not simply an historical event, but an event which continues to shape us and to shape the world around us. Jesus’ death and resurrection affirm that suffering is a part of human existence and reassure us that faith in God will give us strength to endure and hope that not only will the suffering end, but that we can look forward to a new and better future. Jesus’ life and death tells of a God intimately involved in the experiences of God’s people. A God who loved so much that he chose to share our life (a life which is always bound by birth and death, which includes joy and sorrow, health and sickness, loyalty and betrayal).

Our story begins with God’s engagement with the world and continues as we learn to tell the story anew for every generation.

For two thousand years the narrative has transformed lives, led to acts of selflessness and courage, inspired struggles for peace and justice and encouraged solidarity with the poor and the despised.
What happens in the next two thousand years depends on us and on how we tell the story.

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