Stories don’t always have to be big to be good. They don’t have to be exciting to be powerful. Here is a sermon inviting disciples and congregations of disciples to point to Jesus by telling the simple, beautiful stories that are ours. It follows up on the sermon Be Opened, and it celebrates my home congregation’s heritage.
Have We Got a Story to Tell!
A Sermon on Exodus 3:7-12, 4:10-13; Romans 10:14-15, with allusions to Mark 7:31-37
Homecoming at Morton Church
At first Moses liked what God was saying. God was saying, “My people are crying out in pain in Egypt, and I’m going to do something about it!” Even though Moses had been living in Midian for decades, he remembered well the horrible abuse the Hebrew people were experiencing at the hands of the Egyptians: unjust working conditions, physical and emotional violence and more. Doggone right something needed to be done! High time! Past time!
“I’ve seen my people’s misery in Egypt,” God was saying, “and I’m going to get them out of there and take them to a good new place.” “Wow!” Moses was thinking.
“ And so…and so,” God continued. I am sending you to Egypt to speak up for me. Tell the people that I know very well what is going on with them. I see how they are suffering. Tell them the good plans I have for them. And tell Pharaoh that I say, ‘Let my people go!’” Then you lead the people to their new home.
Moses was utterly gotten away with. “Who, me?” he exclaimed. What made God think anybody would listen to him? Nobody was going to listen to him. So Moses gave God all sorts of reasons why this was not a good idea. Moses raised a series of objections, ending with one that really was serious. “But I am slow of speech and slow of tongue,” Moses objected.
Perhaps Moses simply felt that he wasn’t particularly good at putting words together. But the original Hebrew text there uses a pretty strong word for what ailed Moses. It reads “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue,” like there really is some physical difficulty.
Moses probably had a physical problem—perhaps a cleft palate—that meant he had to work really hard to make himself understood. And the reality is, if you have speech related difficulties, people often wonder if your intelligence is intact, and if you really have anything to say. Is it worth the effort to listen.
With substandard speech, who was Moses to be speaking publicly, and in the name of God? No! Just no!
“Lord, please send someone else!”
But when God’s got a job to be done, somebody has to go. Somebody’s got to speak up. Just like Paul said in our epistle lesson today, “How are people going to trust Jesus unless they hear about him? And how are they going to hear unless somebody tells them the good news? Somebody’s got to tell the story.”
Often people think that telling the story of Jesus is a job for someone else, and for reasons a lot like Moses’ reasons. They feel inadequate. Surely somebody else can do a much better job. What about a trained professional?
Maybe it’s partly a hearing problem, as we were talking about last Sunday. Last week we noted that you have to hear and repeat words in order to be able to speak them. Hearing and speaking go together. To speak the word of Christ’s love to others, we must first hear it—hear it deep down in our souls, and let it heal us.
Or maybe it’s that we aren’t sure we have a story to tell, not an interesting story, anyway. Not a powerful, riveting story like Paul’s story, where the light of God literally knocked him down and turned him completely around. How can we be effective witnesses unless we have something big and exciting to share? Who’s going to listen to us?
“Oh Lord,” Moses said, “Just send somebody else!”
But God was determined to work through Moses anyway. God was not going to take “no” for an answer. But this is interesting: wouldn’t it have been much simpler if God had done what Jesus did in Mark 7, and just clear away whatever was blocking Moses’ speech? Surely that would have been a much more efficient and effective way to deal with the problem than what God actually did.
For whatever reason, God thought it was wise to let the disability and struggle remain. Instead, God gave Moses two gifts. First was the assistance of Moses’ brother, Aaron. And second, and more importantly, God’s promise to accompany them personally. God said, “I will be with your mouth and Aaron’s mouth. I will put my words in your mouth and in his mouth.”
God gave him the power to speak in another way. What was the wisdom of this approach? Well, in this arrangement Moses and Aaron would humbly have to keep on seeking God’s help. And, it’s also true that in God’s economy, what seem like weaknesses can actually turn out to be assets. They might actually open more doors than they close.
Yesterday’s Rocky Mount Telegram included a magazine they publish once a year listing Telegram reader’s favorites: favorite restaurant, favorite dentist, etc. I thought to myself, “I bet I can guess which churches will be listed in the favorite church category.” I looked, and I was right: the top ones have big stories to tell, impressive stories that get picked up by the news media.
But stories don’t have to be big to be good. Some very beautiful, very powerful stories are small and simple. About the only thing big in the stories we can tell around here is God himself. God is big. Yet we do have powerful stories to tell. Why? Because we have seen God’s love in action in our lives and in this community of faith, and we have felt the movement of God’s sweet, sweet Spirit among us, and we have seen God’s wonderful power at work. We have seen God do creative and redeeming things. We have seen God’s faithfulness again and again.
And have we got stories to tell! To start with, Morton history is full of stories of God’s love poured out around here. It started in the early 1900s with a story of great love, when Dr. William D. Morton and others grew concerned about our grandparents and great-grandparents living out here in the countryside. They heard God calling them to do something. How would folks out here hear the good news of Jesus unless somebody came here to share it? Dr. Morton and his friends went out of their way to come out here and share the stories of Jesus, and they made a commitment to keep coming, even though it would have been much easier to stay home and focus on their home congregation and families in town. They didn’t have to care about us, but they did! Our ancestors must have loved Dr. Morton very much to name the congregation after him. And our history is full of this kind of story. God is faithful, and God has proved it again and again.
Fast forward to more recent times when we had some serious issues with the building. The fellowship wing had stairs. We had to go upstairs to get to the fellowship hall, and downstairs to the rooms and restroom in the basement. This was not good news for people with mobility problems. On top of that, we had a serious water leakage problem in the basement, and nothing we tried fixed the problem for more than a short while. There are those here today who used to come up here with shop vacs to vacuum up the basement flooding. Hurricane Floyd in 1999 was the worst. Before homecoming that year we were washing the walls down with bleach. How would this problem ever get worked out?
Once again, our faithful God came through and made marvelous provision. In 2005 God blessed Morton Church with an extreme makeover. God gave the money and the skills and the determination needed to gut that wing, strip it to the shell inside and out and reshape it. People worked and sweated together and got all worn out, and we ended up with the beautiful fellowship hall that has already blessed so many people and welcomes us for lunch today. It has been filled with so much love and laughter and singing and learning. On Tuesday nights it is filled with Girl Scouts.
Have we got stories to tell! The sweet, sweet Spirit of Jesus is on the move around here. We can tell of rivers and rivers of supportive prayer, and baskets and baskets of loving cards and letters, and hours and hours of caring, concrete action, seeking to bless people with all kinds of needs. Think of heart to heart talks. Think of rides to the doctor. Think of listening to the prayer needs of our friends at the homeless shelter.
What are some of the stories you can tell? Where have you caught sight of God’s love in action?
In the stories we can tell, the love of Jesus looks like this: in a room in a nursing home, a young man, still in high school, visits an older church member who is on her way to heaven, and he feeds her.
Jesus’ love looks like this: tired, sad families who have lost a loved one get wrapped in his love. They sit down together around tables and share a meal served by Morton sisters, and Morton brothers help, too.
Around here, Jesus’ love looks like this: a member of Christ’s body arrives at the emergency room to console others whose hearts are breaking, and they literally cry together. God is real, and powerfully present, right here.
There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place. Children are cherished and precious, and they know it. I say, “Remember, we love you,” and a little one confidently responds. “I know.” God is here!
Recently I was reminded of something our daughter Laura said when she was small. Laura said, “Mommy, when I grow up, I don’t want to go to another church. I want to go to our church.” This week I asked her to refresh my memory about what prompted that, and she said that it was because she felt safe and nurtured here. The church was her nest. “Nest” was the word she used. I don’t think she could imagine at that age that when she grew up, she might have to move away to follow her calling. Other grownup Morton children have told a similar story.
It wasn’t an exceptionally entertaining program or a sports league or exciting trips somewhere like King’s Dominion that led these children to feel so safe and loved. It was you adults who were truly interested in them, loved them, spent time with them, listened to them, read to them, sang with them, and showed them by example how to love others well in Jesus’ name. Laura’s word for these mentors is grandfriends. Thank you, grandfriends!
No, stories don’t have to be big or exciting, put in fancy words or told flawlessly with a golden tongue to be real and powerful, and full of the presence and love of God and Christ Jesus. And it’s a good thing.
Because the need is too great for any individual Christian or any congregation that has been touched by Jesus to sit on the sidelines. “I see the pain people are in,” says the Lord. “I see the loneliness and the lostness and the hopelessness. I see people young and old and in between who need to know deep in their bones how much I love them, how I want to help them and save them, and how they can trust me. And so,” says the Lord, “I am sending you.” Calling all disciples. Calling all churches. Calling this church. “I need you to speak up!” says the Lord. “I will put my word in your mouth. Tell my story with your words and with your lives.
And have we got a story to tell! Thanks be to God this Homecoming Day!