One of the major way that Jesus taught was through parables. But how do we use those stories? How do we learn from them and allow them to shape us?
This sermon was called ‘How do I understand and use Jesus’ parables?’ (not the most snappy title admittedly!). To help us think about this, I also played an updated version of a parable from Taylormation (well worth a look at!), introduced the confession with Luke 18:9-14 (the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collecter) and read Matthew 7:24-25 (the wise builder) before the final blessing.
As part of the sermon I gave out a simple sheet (which you can download) to help people spend some time reflecting on Matthew 5:14-16 (the parable of the city and the lamp). I then invited people (only if they wanted to) to share what they’d written or drawn and got some very interesting and helpful responses. I’ve also blogged about the importance of telling stories and of story and myth, parts of which I repeat in this sermon. It’s more in note form than usual, but I think that there’s enough to show my thinking!
We all like stories – soaps, novels, reality TV, sport.
We like hearing stories and telling our own stories – what we did with our day, our week, the funny thing that happened to so-and-so once
The stories that we tell each other, the stories that we live with, shape us in ways that we don’t always recognise.
Terry Pratchett wrote about this, particularly in his book Witches Abroad. That’s about a bad fairy godmother who wants to make people fit the stories exactly. Bakers have to have floury arms and bustle and so on. And of course, the serving girl has to marry the prince. Which is where the problems start. But as part of this Pratchett writes:
People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.
We are shaped by the stories that we tell each other, by the stories that we live with.
Stories that tell us, for example, that girls should like pink and are princesses in need of rescuing.
Stories are powerful – they change and shape us
For example, what stories do we tell about refugees? because the story that we tell shapes our response, changes how we treat them, means we either treat them as human beings in need of our help. Or, as one commentator was allowed to call them in a newspaper – cockroaches. What do we do with cockroaches? They’re disgusting vermin that we want dead.
What do we do with human beings fleeing from horror that we can’t, or won’t, imagine? Hopefully treat them better than cockroaches.
Stories change people’s lives.
Not least because we experience meaning, experience reality, through stories in ways that we don’t do in any other way.
So, what stories do we allow to shape our lives? What story do you want to be part of?
And that’s one of the reasons that Jesus told the important things in stories.
Much of the Bible is told in stories. And they are stories that we are invited to be part of.
Many of the stories in the Old Testament are re-tellings of the Exodus – the time when God through Moses led God’s people out of slavery and into freedom.
For example, Psalm 22 verses 3-5:
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
That story, the story of the Exodus, of God’s people being freed by God, gets told and retold, so that it shapes the lives of God’s people. Not well enough, because they keep on straying!
Jesus invited his hearers into the stories he told. And those stories retold this story. The parable of the lost son. The parable of the treasure. Many more. They re-tell the story of the Exodus, or part of the story of the Exodus in different ways. The lost are found. The trapped are brought into the community.
And Jesus invites us to become a part of the story. To become part of what is going on
Going to spend some time now thinking about, reflecting on a parable.
You don’t have to share it with anyone else.
If you found that helpful, then there’s another 41 parables that you can do the same sort of thing with!
You certainly don’t have to, but if you would like to share what you’ve written or drawn, you’re very welcome to do so now.
[people did, and had obviously engaged with it in different, helpful, ways]
All this is one of the reasons that we retell the story, the true story, of God’s people and Jesus’ love for us when we have communion. Because that’s a story that we’re invited into, invited to become a part of. It’s a story that can shape our lives. So it’s important that we hear it, remember it, are nourished by it. And as we do so, as we take the bread and wine and encounter the Spirit of God again, we are shaped by the story, shaped by the Storyteller and filled afresh with the Spirit of Christ.
This is the story that we’re invited to be a part of. Amen.