Sermon from 21 November:

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Philippians 4:4-9

On the day of my grandma Williams’ funeral on Labor Day weekend, my grandpa Williams was in the hospital with pneumonia. A friend sat with him all morning. I’m glad I could go to the funeral, but I’m also somewhat jealous of Grandpa’s friend, because they sat all morning and told old stories together. Grandpa is a great storyteller, with the imagination and vision to create or highlight the important details that bring a story to life. Stories of the past aren’t all there is to a funeral – there’s also a present and future hope – but much of what I love at funerals are the stories.

Some storytellers are especially gifted, but amateur stories are extra special because you know they deeply matter. People get animated about the important stuff, the details they know matter, and they’re as lively as any professional storyteller. The important stories never go away. They’re told many times, they’re heard many times, and people still laugh and smile at them. These unpolished stories make me really believe in the power of stories. We learn who we are from our stories.

In the reading from Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people to recite their story. This is part of the harvest festival, when you present the first portion of your crop to God. This festival idea is part of why churches usually have their pledge drive around Thanksgiving, to make a token commitment to the God who gave you your income. But I’m not telling you to tithe today. You already know to give generously and to help sustain our church programs. The instruction that often gets missed is to recite this story. Moses tells Israel what to say: come with your gifts and remember who you are.

And what is this story? It’s the story of the people:

“My ancestor was a wandering Aramean, who took his family to Egypt to live. They were few in number when they went there, but they became a large and powerful nation. The Egyptians treated us harshly and forced us to work as slaves.” (Notice that now it’s ‘us’ – this is our story.) “Then we cried out for help to the Lord, the God of our ancestors. He heard us and saw our suffering, hardship, and misery. By his great power and strength he rescued us from Egypt. He worked miracles and wonders, and caused terrifying things to happen. He brought us here and gave us this rich and fertile land. So now I bring to the Lord the first part of the harvest that he has given me.’ “

“So now I give this.” Our giving flows from who we are, from the story of God’s activity in our lives. Giving is the result of telling our stories, not precisely the goal. We don’t give so much because of “what the church needs” or even because of “what other people need.” Our generosity is based on God’s story. Giving is how we respond to and participate in God’s story. It’s a natural response when we’ve told these stories. We gather to share our stories, and the stories themselves invite us to share with the poor, the homeless, and the foreigners. It’s just like what will happen on Thursday for many of us. It seems like we gather to eat together, but really we gather to tell each other stories.

So here’s a story: I did one of the crazier things I’ve ever done. I flew to Korea and came home with a little boy. It was a beautiful, exciting trip, with kind and generous people everywhere. Then we were home with Ian’s grandparents and each other. We hid from you all for weeks afterward, as was the plan, while we settled in and got to know ea other. People from church were extremely curious, but you were all fantastically respectful of the space we needed.

You welcomed Ian as part of your extended families (which he is), and you invited him into the great story we share. We celebrated his baptism upstairs, then you gave him gifts and a reception downstairs – complete with Korean flags on Memorial Day! And you were generous with us all year. For the months when I didn’t know which way was up, you covered for me. All year, you’ve been more patient with me than I know how to be with myself. You have been my church, and I’m so grateful.

That’s just part of what I’m thankful for this year. It’s just one of the places God has been in my life. As we tell some of our faith story together in the affirmation of faith, think of where God has been in your life this year. These are holy stories. They’re some of the most valuable things we can tell each other. Tell them this week.