The Story We Have to Offer
The story we find ourselves in
What kind of story am I telling here?
The story of a man who “comes out” of the wilderness to where the people are, to show them a vision of God’s kingdom as a feast of good things - a feast to which everyone is invited - and to tell them that this kingdom has come very near. The way to it begins where they are, with what they have “in their hands”, and what they have will be enough - if they follow the “Way” of faith - to let them receive the kingdom and make it real where they are. Here and now, what they have can become enough to meet the need. Whatever the size, scale or urgency of the need.
He offers them the secret of the kingdom. He shows them the Source of life. He explains how they can find the new life they long for, the strength they need to keep going, the energy they need to face the challenge, the “more life” that will fill them with purpose, the “greater life” which will fulfil their aspirations and give them their place in the community, in the world, in history, in the cosmos.
Jesus shows them how to find this life within them, and amongst them, and in any context, and at any moment. He shows them how to find the Source of life. And he shows them what the Source is like, how it gives life, how much life it gives, and how the life it gives is always enough. He shows them the vastness, variety, depth, greatness, gentleness and generosity of the life available. He shows them its abundance, and what that abundance means. How it feeds us at every level and in every possible manner. How it is endless and everlasting. How it will never fail.
He not only preaches this, but shows them how it is done. Again and again and again. In all manner of situations. This is a teacher whose message has authority because he is able to practise what he preaches. He shows them that it works. He shows them how it works. And he shows them step by step - in small, easy steps, with many illustrations and many words of encouragement - so that they begin to see how it might work for them. They begin to believe - to have faith that - it will work when they do it, too.
He shows them the multitude of ways in which the Source gives life, and he shows them that this multitude of ways is ultimately one “Way”. A sequence of small steps. A process. Releasing the life-giving potential of a situation can be distilled into a process which people can learn. Which anyone can learn. And which anyone can learn to apply. Always. Everywhere.
He encourages them to try it and see.
Jesus’ message has authority because he is able to deliver, to make a difference, to change things for the better. His way of seeing a situation, thinking about it and then acting within it, transforms that situation, making it as creative as possible, releasing its potential.
His way of seeing - thinking - and acting is so radical, so transformative, that he is able to withstand the most aggressive and destructive forces - forces far beyond human understanding or control - setting people free from their power. He dismisses the demons and restores the sick to health. He touches the man with leprosy and reintegrates him into the community. (other examples)
Because he did these things - much in demand - followed by a crowd. Jesus’ love for the crowd. Saw them as sheep needing a shepherd, full of creative potential, needing the kind of leadership that would feed them, and show them how they could learn to feed themselves. How to ask, receive the fullness from God’s feast. Release their potential and enable them to become life-givers.
From the crowd drew to himself closer bands of followers who became friends and disciples. A “school of faith” - learning the “Way” of faith. Vision and strategy. A vision of abundance. Strategy that is a process of four steps. A profound and complex acceptance of what was given. The willingness to celebrate what was given. The willingness to act, within the given circumstances, as if the vision of abundant life is real. And the willingness to go back to the beginning; to refresh the vision and repeat the cycle for as long as it would take for the seeds of creative life within that situation to grow and, in turn, bear fruit themselves.
A process of honesty, attention and trust. An holistic process which promoted wholeness, holiness and health, not by making them conform to an abstract, idealised image of perfection, but by enabling the individual - at the very least - to become the best that they could be within their circumstances. Further, by maximising their ability to transcend their circumstances. And, through their connections with others, magnifying this effect so that they can transform their circumstances. New life. More life. Better life. Greater life. Becoming a life-giver.
Process of honesty, attention and trust - way of trust in the grace of God and the vision of God’s abundance - the abundant life that God wants to give to all. But also a discipline that has to be applied every moment, every day, every situation, context, encounter. A process of re-orienting oneself, of being transformed, converted. Any sudden redirection must become life-long conversion. Of learning and learning how to teach others. Of becoming a disciple and consenting to become a mentor for others. Being utterly honest, truthful, one’s true self, and remaining true to that self. Learning how to pay attention, for the art of abundance is paying attention. Learning how to trust. Ourselves. Others. God.
Process of long-term modelling and mentoring. School of faith.
A Table in the Wilderness
(2) Last Supper as story and as process. Same sort of story as the Feeding. Need vast, resources small. Story describes and encapsulates the process whereby the resources are generated and magnified to meet the need. The power is in the process. Process which includes Vision & Strategy. An image of abundant life to encourage, motivate, inspire. A strategy which makes the abundance real, specific, personal, practical, material, so that our needs are met. Luggage, tools, shield, weapon.
(3) Vision - The image of the Feast of the Kingdom, available to all. Jesus creating a table in the wilderness for the crowds who have followed him, for each individual he has met along the way, for his disciples in the face of loss, limitation, persecution, betrayal, their own frailty and death, for those who will follow after them, for us.
(4) Strategy - four-fold strategy (acceptance, celebration/thanksgiving, action to fix the abundance in personal, practical forms, and perseverance) forms that will enable them to do more than just survive - endure and remain transformative, indeed to be even more transformative because they can act in faith at the moment of kairos, or crisis. (Terry Pratchett - find the right moment, pressing the lever then)
(5) Process which transforms the situation by generating abundance in a form that meets the need. A universal process exemplified in the Feeding of the 5,000. Which Jesus applied throughout his ministry to individual, personal problems and situations. A means of God intervening at the critical moment.
(6) The power is in the process. Power of the mustard seed. Ability of process to bridge the chasm. Process carries us forward so that, in faith, we “walk on water” Hugely demanding of its practitioners. May feel that it is way beyond us. But actually that feeling is the right starting point. Not masters of this way, only ever beginners. When we forget that, we falter and fall. When we remember that, we find that any one of us can be the one who speaks the vital word, to makes the critical connection, who does the significant thing which turns the situation around. Olive Allinn story.
(7) This process of living by faith - “Eucharistic Dynamic” - is now applied in a highly specific social and historical context to the broad, complicated and profound problems of living with others, forming and sustaining networks of relationships, and restoring healthy social dynamics.
Telling Our Story
Stories come in different sizes – stories Jesus told, stories about Jesus (incidents in his life), the story of Jesus’ life, death & resurrection (the big story). True of us, too. All these sizes but can be a consistency. The small story can sum up the person. What’s your favourite food? Whelks. What is a whelk?
Stories have layers. The story behind the story. (More to this than meets the eye, different points of view, surface/depth) What we are told is not necessarily the whole story. What’s the story? What lies behind what we are being told? Methodist Recorder (What’s the story?)
The Times small ads (16.9.57)
Parables – what’s the story? Listen! Let anyone with ears to hear, listen! More to this than meets the eye.
We need to pay attention to stories, because they are telling us more than we think.
“Morning by morning he wakens – wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn back.” (Isaiah 50.4b-5)
Pay attention: Listen with Mother. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin...” Permission to listen, imagine, dream.
Unless we pay attention - listen, reflect, respond - we will not get all that the story is giving us. We will not receive the gift.
Stories told by Jesus are designed to be obscure, to make us search, to take a lot of unpacking. Not cheap and easy. Because it is the process of searching which makes us grow. Parable about the sower not only about the process of growth, but as we reflect on the story, it comes true – We grow!
This process of paying attention is the secret of the kingdom of God, like a key that unlocks all the parables, all the stories Jesus told, and the truth about Jesus. Doesn’t want to make it easy for us. Accessible & available to everyone, but not easy. No cheap grace. We have to want it, and although given freely, show that we want it, show we are willing to give our all for it.
If we listen, reflect & respond - God will show us what it means. Reassurance vv.21-34.
Same goes for our own stories. If we pay attention, listen, reflect, respond, we will see more, learn, make the connections, grow. The threads will become woven together, and our threads with the threads of others, day by day.