Finding Our Place in the Story

Based on Deuteronomy 6:1–21; 6:4–9

I was talking with a friend of mine this week. She’s the pastor of a congregation in a situation like many congregations. It’s a congregation in danger of dying. With an aging population, a neighborhood around them where the demographics are completely different than the families who are members of the church, and they have a huge, old building that’s dark and has lots of deferred maintenance hanging over them. They called my friend three years ago, thinking that with her progressive theology and young family, that she’d save the church.

The first year was full of hope. The second year, a little less hope. And now, the church needs a miracle, and my friend isn’t feeling like a miracle worker.

We talked about the fact that her congregants thought she would bring in young church members. She said, “I do bring them in. But they don’t feel welcome. Heck,” she said, “My own family doesn’t feel welcome.”

We were talking about Biblical texts, so I asked a question. “Where in the Biblical text would your people say they are?” Would they be an exodus people? Or an exile people? “Definitely an exile people,” she said. Which exile? Egyptian, before Moses? Assyrian? Babylonian? She said, “Babylonian,” which is the second exile when the Babylonians took the Israelites out of Judah, the Southern kingdom.

So I said, “They are captives in Babylon?” She answered, “No. They are the remnant left behind.” The 14th century poem, Siege of Jerusalem said:

And whan the Temple was overtilt, Tytus commaundys
In plowes to putte and alle the place erye;
Suth they sow hit with salt, and seiden this wordes:
“Now is this stalwourthe stede distroied forevere.”

and while I’m not a middle English translator, I’m going to give it a try:

And when the Temple was overthrown, by Commander Tytus,
In plows to put and all the places everywhere;
So they sowed it with salt and said these words:
Now is this strong city destroyed forever.

The earth was salted by Babylon. So my friend’s church considers themselves the remnant of people left on salted earth.

Brené Brown says, in her new book Rising Strong, “The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity.”

Having this conversation with my friend, and working through this narrative lectionary, brought up questions for me of where we are, as a community, at this time in our history.

Are we in the cosmic beginnings? A time when all is new and our challenge is more about understanding than anything else? Think about each of the stories of this time: beginnings in the Garden of Eden, terror in the story of Noah’s ark, confusion at the Tower of Babel.

Or are we in the time of generations? A time where we’re choosing to build, to grow? A time of moment-by-moment guidance directly from God? Think about Abram, leaving Haran to go to Ur… The time of Isaac and Rebecca, of Jacob and Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah. Or maybe Joseph… Mostly, this is a time of following God, a personal God, into a promise.

What about a desert time of exodus? Moses has led us into the desert. Will we worship another God than God and wander here for 40 years? Are we trying to understand how to live in community? Are we stagnated afraid to move, are we lost? And, by the way, are we running away from something or running towards something?

Or maybe we’re at the time of judges? Judges 2:11-12 sums it up, “Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals; and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger.” It’s a time of multiple leaders, some who are good and some who are not so good.

But maybe we’re at the time of kings? A time of internal growth, of internal prosperity, with a clear enemy outside of us? A time with clear leadership, a time of building.

Or do we find ourselves at a time of exile? Have we been so influenced by outside forces that we’ve pulled out of community? Have we been destroyed by an enemy? Do we feel like the exiles said, “How can we sing our songs in a new land?” Or another question, have we been carried off in exile or are we the left behind?

Finally, are we at a time of re-entry? Of deciding how to rebuild? When Ezra and Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, they build walls first, but then they had to decide whether to rebuild the Temple.

So, let me ask. Where do you think we are in the narrative. Do you mind just holding up your hands if this sounds most like us?

The time of cosmic beginnings…

The time of the patriarchs and matriarchs?

The time of exile?

The time of the exodus?

The time of the judges?

The time of the kings?

The time of the divided kingdom?

The time of exile, either of northern or southern kingdom?

The time of return from exile?

Thank you.

Brené Brown says:

The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity.

So let me ask you this:

How are the stories we are telling about ourselves diminishing our inherent worthiness?

How can we tell the story in a way that reminds us that we are loveable and loved by God?

How can we tell the stories in ways that protect our faith narratives—no person or organization is able to write our spiritual story or think of us as anything less than spiritually worthy.

Finally, how can we tell our stories in ways that honor our creativity and ability? Brown says, “Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world. Just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change its worth or ours.”

Because here’s the thing… The way that we tell this story can and will determine our future. And why does that matter? Because the future isn’t already determined. Because with our creativity, our knowledge that we are spiritually worthy and loved by God, we can choose the next story of our evolution.

The majority of you said that you believe that our story intersects with the Biblical record right here…

(The church overwhelmingly said they think we’re in the Exodus)

So let’s tell this story…