The Jewish people, who share our God and our Old Testament, tell the story of Esther every year, at a festival called Purim. It’s an important story for them because they have lived through many times of being persecuted and hated by those in power, and this is a story about facing a situation like that, and surviving – surviving because both people and God are faithful and loving.
Who here likes stories? … Do you remember something better if somebody just says it, or if it’s in a story? … Stories are powerful.Our minds and hearts are wired for story. All around the world, all throughout time, human beings have talked about what’s important through stories. We tell stories to make each other laugh, or cry. We tell stories about things that everybody experiences, and about exceptional, strange, crazy things that only happen once. We tell stories that are true, and we tell stories that are lies, and stories that are absolutely made-up, but somehow true anyway. We love stories. It’s one of the most important things we do – make and tell and remember and share stories. So when our cycle of Bible readings in church brings us a little snippet of a good story, I like to make sure we hear the whole story!
Why spend time with stories from the Bible? Well, because they’re great. This one has a beautiful brave princess, a King, a good old-fashioned villain who you don’t have to like, and noisemakers! It’s a lot of fun! But we don’t share these stories just because they’re great stories. Stories from the Bible tell us that God is part of our human stories. God is working in the world and in the lives of human beings – extraordinary people and ordinary people too.
But God’s story isn’t just in the Bible; it’s still happening in the world. Does anybody remember this book from our Godly Play classroom? … It’s from a lesson called “The part that hasn’t been written yet.” You spend the year learning some of the great stories of God’s people, and then we remind each other that those stories keep happening, and we are in some of them.
So when we’re hearing a Bible story, one question we can ask ourselves is, How might this story be my story? Am I in this story somewhere? In our Godly Play classroom, one of the questions at the end of each story is, I wonder which part of the story is most about you? That’s a good question to think about – for grownups too! Here’s a more grownup way to say the same thing, from missional church scholar Alan Roxburgh: “Where does the biblical imagination give us language to talk about what we are experiencing?” Holy stories can help us make sense of our experiences, and know them as part of God’s unfolding story.
Here’s a little example. There’s a story Jesus tells about a young man who leaves home. He takes his share of his father’s money and he goes off to have a good time. He makes some really bad choices, spends all his money and ends up in trouble. Finally he’s desperate enough to go home to his father, even though he thinks his father will be really angry, might even refuse to call him his son anymore. But when he’s walking up the road to his home, his father sees him and RUNS to meet him. He hugs him – and he’s so glad to have his son back safely that he throws a party! Do you know that story? It’s usually called the Prodigal Son story.
I was talking with a friend recently whose grownup son has been going through some tough times. Things weren’t going well for him. And my friend said, I just need to be the Prodigal Father. I just need to welcome my son back, and celebrate that he is safe, without giving him a hard time about his choices or his failures. That story from the Bible, that story Jesus told, helped my friend know how to be, in this real-life situation. That story gave him guidance and comfort. And it told him that God knows how he feels. God has been there.
I wonder which part of this story is most about you? I hope you’ll think about that question sometimes, and I look forward to hearing your answers.