Link to service

 

Psalm 14/53

Mark 4.13. 26-29

Tell Me a Story, Over and Over Again

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

What is your story?  Do you tell your stories very often?  Do you repeat yourself?  Do you tell them a little bit differently every time?  Do they gain detail each time you tell them?  Do they bring you back to an earlier time?  Do they say something about the person you are today?  Do you begin by saying, “I may have told you this before…”  No matter how God has woven your story into the fabric of your life, remember that whenever we tell our stories, we weave someone else into the fabric of our lives as well, and that, my friends, creates splendid and wondrous comforter.

When my grandfather was a young boy - Popoo, as we used to call him - helped his father deliver milk and eggs from the family farm before setting off to school each day.  Every morning they walked by a house with unusual sounds emanating from a second story window.  “Dad,” my grandfather asked one morning, “what is that awful noise?  It sounds like someone is skinning a cat up there!”  “Ah,” his father replied, “that’s just Rosa practicing her scales.”  Rosa was Rosa Ponzillo, one of their neighbors up the street.  Not too many years later, Rosa Ponzillo anglicized her name to Rosa Ponselle and went on to be one of the leading coloratura sopranos for the Metropolitan Opera, in her very first performance she starred opposite Enrico Caruso.  If Pop told that story once, he told it a thousand times, and when I was a boy I wondered why old people repeated themselves as often as they did.  But as I got older, and began repeating myself myself, I understood if my grandfather had only told that story once, it is very unlikely I would ever have remembered it.

          Repetition is one of the keys to remembering a story.  Repetition is one of the keys to remembering a story.  Humanity has to a degree forgotten the art of storytelling, especially since the development of the printing press, but for most of human history, information was passed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next.  At its heart, this is the essence of storytelling.  It wasn’t a matter of repeating things verbatim, but rather more for the gist.  Although, there was an aspect of rabbinic training where the novitiate was required to memorize the entire torah word for word; one of the keys to success was to be able to identify the letter at the exact center of the Hebrew scriptures: it is the letter waw, the sixth letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the last letter of the Hebrew word for “belly” as it occurs in Leviticus 11.42.

          We heard one example of the practice of repetition in the psalm Ann read for us this morning.  Psalm 53, is an almost exact duplicate of Psalm 14, with the sole exception of a handful of words in v 5.  The reason for the repetition is that there are actually five books in the psalter; Psalm 14 is in the first book and Psalm 53 is in the second book, and apparently a rabbi thought it such an important psalm that it was placed in the second book as well as the first just for good measure.

          Repetition abounds in the Bible, nowhere more so than in the telling of stories.  The Bible opens with two considerably different, though complementary, stories of creation, the first one in Genesis 1 which begins, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” and the second in Genesis 2 beginning with verse 4, “In the day the Lord God made the earth and the heavens…”  You can tell the difference between the two stories because the word for the divine changes from Elohim, or God in the first, to Yahweh, the Lord, in the second.  Likewise, the story of Israel’s early history, notably the exodus and the long journey through the wilderness is told twice, first in Exodus and Leviticus, and a second time in Deuteronomy.  (The word “Deuteronomy” itself means second law, or second history.) Again, the stories of Kings Saul, David and Solomon are told twice, once in I & II Samuel and I & II Kings, and then a second time, and from a different point of view, in I & II Chronicles.  It appears that reading much of the Bible can be compared to telling your child a bedtime story.  And what did our kids almost always say at the end of any bedtime story?  “Could you tell it again?  Please?”  The writers of the Bible are only too happy to comply.

          Jesus understood the power of repetitive storytelling.  The parables in the gospels are really multiple riffs on a handful of stories he told in different ways, and Jesus explains why he does this in Mark 4.  Frustrated that his own disciples don’t understand his stories, he laments, “Do you not understand this parable?  Then how will you understand all the parables?”  So instead of simply repeating them, he dresses each one up a little differently.  For example, the parable of the seed we heard this morning is probably the original version, though not the only one, of what we call “parables of growth.”

“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

But just in case his hearers don’t get it; he changes things up a bit in the parable of the sower and the seeds, where the seed fell on different kinds of ground; the best ground, he says, produces fruit 30, 60, 100 times the original seed.  A similar parable of growth tells the story of the mustardseed, where even the teeniest bit of faith can produce tremendous results.  There is also parable of the wheat and the tares, where the seed grows tenaciously among the brambles.  Whenever there is more than one way of repeating the same story, Jesus finds a way to do it.

          In a similar way, although also just different enough to be memorable, in Luke 15 Jesus tells three different stories with the same moral: the story of the widow who lost a coin and turns everything upside down to find it; the shepherd who loses one sheep out of a hundred, but refuses to return without it; and the prodigal son, the son who is lost to temptation but causes tremendous rejoicing on his return, his finding himself again.  Something of great value was lost, and there is much to celebrate when it is found again:  three ways of telling one story.  Elsewhere in the gospels Jesus tells different but related stories about forgiveness, about the temptations of material wealth, about hospitality.  They may not be exactly the same story, but then again in a way they are, they just use different words to make the same point.

          I remember a storytelling event I once attended many years ago where the storyteller performed a neat trick; I’m sure you’re familiar with this method Margie, but it really struck me at the time.  She opened with a certain story, then told three more stories that were slightly related to the first, though not too much so.  At the end of the evening, she retold the first story, but because of the intervening stories, the second time she told the first one it sounded fresh and different even though it was the same one as at the start.  This, for me, reveals the transformative power of story.

          If you have ever attended a funeral or a memorial service I’ve done, you’ve probably heard me encourage folks to celebrate the person’s life by telling stories about them.  Nearly everyone at the service remembers the person in a certain way, and those ways differ, sometimes considerably.  Some people worked with the person, others are family members, a few were neighbors, others part of a social circle, and so on.  At both my Dad’s and Mom’s services, at least one of the attendees was restaurant waitstaff from their favorite places to eat.  The point of it is that each person knew the individual from a slightly different point of view, and so can tell a different story about the person.  Telling those stories, to my mind, does two important things.  Together, they provide a composite, and more complete portrait of the individual.  But also, in telling the story, we keep the memory of that person vivid, and alive.   Every time I tell the story of Rosa Ponselle, my grandfather is sitting next to me once again, talking about his father and his neighbor and his boyhood and having a good laugh at himself at the same time.  Because I heard it more times than I can count it is a story I will always remember.

          What is your story?  Do you tell your stories very often?  Do you repeat yourself?  Do you tell them a little bit differently every time?  Do they gain detail each time you tell them?  Do they bring you back to an earlier time?  Do they say something about the person you are today?  Do you begin by saying, “I may have told you this before…”  No matter how God has woven your story into the fabric of your life, remember that whenever we tell our stories, we weave someone else into the fabric of our lives as well, and that, my friends, creates splendid and wondrous comforter.

sermons

events

lifegroups

Join Us!

Sunday worship

is at 10 a.m. 

In-person or

on our

UCC FB Page

 

Worship and

Church School 

Handicapped Accessible 

Nursery Care Provided 

Office Hours

Church Office:

Tuesday - Friday 9-1

 

Minister's Hours:

Wednesday  - Friday

8:30-12:30

 

Mailing Address:  

Post Office Box 383, Chester, CT 06412

 

Physical Address:  

29 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412

 

Telephone:

860-526-2697  

 

Email Address: 

unitedchester@uccchester.org