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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's sermon


20th June 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity II

'Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you'.

In Iran it is still possible to meet a travelling storyteller, one who entrances his hearers, using only a few simple props, relying on the power of his narrative. The stories of the Arabian Nights come out of this tradition. Now with the advent of television it is slowly dying out.

Storytelling, narrative, is of great importance in our Christian tradition. Without it we quite literally lose the plot. I came across these words from the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks in and an interview he gave to the Daily Telegraph.

"To have a moral vision you need a narrative. That is the Christian and Jewish belief. History is meaningful: it tells a story in which we are both the stars and the co-authors." (Daily Telegraph 15.6.04)

He was concerned that in Europe unlike the USA we are losing that sense of common narrative and therefore of purpose. I would like to suggest that we are in danger of losing it in the Church. We too forget to tell our story to others, one in which we are stars and co-authors.

Yet the popular culture of celebrity gossip and soap opera suggests that there is still a hunger for stories. The challenge for us is to come up with ways of telling our stories that connects with that, to come up with a 'narrative of hope' to use Sacks' words again.

The gospel is just that, a narrative of hope. This is particularly true of St. Luke's. It becomes all the more powerful when we realise that we are stars and co-authors in the ongoing telling of the gospel story in the present and into the future.

Today's passage is particularly dramatic. St. Luke places it after the stilling of the storm on the lake. He met a possessed man, nicknamed 'legion' because of the number of demons that had entered him. These days we rarely use the language of demon possession to describe mental illness. Today the language of psychiatry attempts to describes the same reality in different terms. What is clear from the reading is that the man was severely disturbed. Chains could not hold him. Some commentators have suggested that he may have witnessed or experienced some dreadful atrocity carried out by the Romans, a great evil that allowed evil to enter into his very core.

The next part of the story is equally dramatic. The demons begged Jesus to let them enter into a herd of swine. Whatever the explanation for what was unleashed, the terrified swine rushed headlong over the cliff and were drowned. Then, just as with the previous story of the stilling of the storm, there was a great calm. The man was healed. He was found 'sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.'

In many of the healing miracles, particularly in St. Mark, Jesus tells those who have been healed not to tell. (The messianic secret) Here Luke's purposes are different. Jesus tells the man, 'Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you'. This he did, obeying the commandment to tell his story.

It is not immediately easy for us to obey such a command of Jesus. As English, Anglican, Christians, brought up to believe that it is impolite to discuss religion in public we tend to draw back with embarrassment from the religious enthusiasts who are always eager to tell what the Lord has done for them. If we are serious in our faith then we need to over come our reticence. Here are a few ideas as to how.

So there you have my suggestions as to how we can begin and continue to obey Jesus' command to 'declare how much God has done for you.' The evidence is that storytelling and story listening within the context of deepening friendships becomes the means by which the Church grows.

'So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.'

Amen

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Last updated 20/06/04 13:00 Author: David Shepherd