Sermon Text: That's My Story
I'm a big believer in reading stories aloud to children.
When our kids were little, my wife and I read to them all the time. I'm sure that's one reason both of them have such good vocabularies. And when I was a kid, adults read aloud to me. My mom, of course, and I also remember my fourth-grade teacher reading Charlotte's Web to us. I remember my sixth-grade teacher reading Rabbit Hill to us.
Reading stories to children is powerful. Adults who listen to audiobooks know the power of stories out loud.
Stories are interesting. And stories can often be understood more quickly than heavy, conceptual language. Everybody tells stories, and listens to them. Everybody has stories. Everybody is a story.
Now, the center of our Christian tradition is a man of a thousand stories. Jesus told stories. And people told stories about Jesus. They are written down in the Gospels.
Each year in church, we focus on one of the Gospels. Starting this season of Advent, our focus this year will be the Gospel of Mark. It's my favorite. Partly I kind of like the name. But I also find it the most interesting.
It's the shortest. Mark tells the whole story more quickly and concisely than the others. It's the most intense, in some ways. The emotions of Jesus are closer to the surface in Mark's Gospel than the others. And it's the oldest. We are almost positive it was the first of the four to be written. The other three used Mark's Gospel in their own work, tweaking it for their own purposes.
The four Gospels have an agenda, of course. They are not biographies of Jesus in the modern sense. Instead, they are traditions collected and celebrated by different communities, communities which were devoted to Jesus. Each Gospel has its own spin and its own message, and its own image of Jesus. Each Gospel is an overall big story, while being made up of smaller stories.
So here we are at the year of Mark. Today we start with its opening words: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus."
I wish people would hear that clearly. The word "gospel" literally means "good news." It is good news. The Christian religion has not always been seen as good news. Too often, it's been about rules and fear and condemning people and controlling people. The church has obscured the good news from time to time.
The word "Gospel" means "news that is good," and the Gospel is about love and compassion and forgiveness and community. And the Gospel, the good news, is all about Jesus.
The Jesus of the Gospels is an epiphany of God. He is what God looks like for us. He is what God acts like for us. And we will see Jesus as God's epiphany again and again in Mark's Gospel. He will heal the sick and raise the dead and forgive sins and walk on water and be revealed in glory on a mountain.
The Jesus of the Gospels is also a real, honest-to-God human being. He calls himself "the Son of Man," which is a Hebrew way of saying, "the human being." He is an example for us to follow and a model for us to imitate. We will see Jesus as an example of true humanity again and again in Mark's Gospel. He will get angry and show compassion and be frustrated and make friends and get tired and enjoy banquets and tell stories.
For the next year, we will hear Mark's Gospel stories, and we'll see Jesus as God's epiphany, and we'll see Jesus as a for-real human being. That's Mark's agenda, Mark's message, Mark's spin.
Now, I said how important it is to real aloud to children. I've read to my grandchildren, of course. I'm partial to reading Dr. Seuss aloud to them, as I read Seuss to my children, to their dad and their aunt Marie.
And they can sense the agenda in stories. There was The Cat in the Hat, about what happens when you are unsupervised by adults. There was The Butter Battle Book, about the foolishness of modern war. There was The Lorax, about how we must protect our world from pollution. Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? is a story about being thankful. The Sneetches story is about the silliness of prejudice. What Was I Afraid Of? is about facing our fears.
And then I tried The Sleep Book. It's about the joys of getting ready for bed and going to sleep at night.
Even when my granddaughters were only four years old, they could smell an agenda a mile away. They liked all the other Dr. Seuss books, but when I read them The Sleep Book, they didn't like it. They knew there was an agenda here. They knew the grownups wanted them to go to bed. That was not their agenda. They got up and ran away after four pages. Oh, well.
Mark the Evangelist has an agenda. We'll be exploring it over the next year. We'll see Jesus through what Mark says. Jesus will be an epiphany of God, showing us what God is like. And Jesus will be an example of true human being, showing us how we can live a life in God. That's Mark's agenda.
And it's the opposite of Dr. Seuss' Sleep Book. The Sleep Book wants to help kids fall asleep. Mark's book, Mark's Gospel, wants us all to be awake. Mark says, "Wake up...pay attention...he's here."
That's his story. That's my story. And I'm sticking to it.
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