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As a pastor I have preached many sermons over my years in ministry, I am now retired, but one thing I want to share with the world is that ALL LIVES MATTER. I lived through the riots of the 60’s the killing of John Kennedy, and his brother Robert and the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. All of these were horrible things that happened in our society, yet we managed to continue on as a nation. We worked together to heal wounds that many thought would tear us apart. We survived them and we have come a long way from those horrible days, we have worked at becoming a country of one people, no matter our color, our background, we are one people. No matter what else may happen in our world, we must remember that if we are to be a nation, we must be one people, not many groups who happen to live in the same country.

The following sermon I preached in 1997 speaks to the idea that we are not a separate people, we have one story to tell and it asks the question – What is Your Story.

“Bishop Bevel Jones told the following story during a sermon delivered to the 1996 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“Andrew Young, former ambassador to the UN, tells a parable about having been visiting South Africa at the invitation of Nelson Mandela. For years Mandela was a leading opponent of apartheid, South Africa’s official policy of racial segregation. In 1964, the white establishment locked him up for life. But, as the legend of Mandela grew, so did the worldwide campaign to set him free. He was released in 1990. When apartheid was abolished, and South Africa held its first democratic elections in the spring of 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected president. Thirteen months later, Mandela invited Andrew Young to be his guest when South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup Tournament. Now rugby is a white man’s game. The South African team, like most rugby teams, is entirely white. And South Africa is about 80 percent black. So, even though the world championship was being played right there in Johannesburg, there was a deliberate absence of support for the team. As the tournament approached, a heated debate broke out about the South African team symbol — a leaping gazelle called a “springbok.” Most of the white Afrikaners said, “The springbok has been the symbol of every rugby team we’ve ever had.” Most black South Africans said, “Exactly! It reminds us of South Africa’s racist history, and we want it changed.” It was an explosive situation.

Now Nelson Mandela has impeccable political sensibilities. More importantly, he understands the saving power of grace. A few days before the opening game, Mandela visited the South African team. After the visit, he called a press conference. Mandela showed up wearing a rugby jersey and an athletic cap with the team mascot, a springbok, on it. The newspaper and TV reporters were there and recorded it all. Mandela said that until the elections, he and most other black people in South Africa had always supported whoever was playing against the Springboks. “But regardless of the past,” he said, “these are our boys now. They may all be white, but they’re our boys, and we must get behind them and support them in this tournament.”
The next day, the Springboks’ coach sent word for his players not to show up in their practice gear. He told them to wear their suits and ties. He took them out to Robben Island, to the prison where Nelson Mandela had spent nearly three decades of his life behind bars. The coach and every player on the team walked into Mandela’s cell.
As they stood there, the coach said, “This is the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. He was kept here for 27 years by the racist policies of our government. We Afrikaners tolerated his imprisonment for all those years, and yet he has backed us publicly. We can’t let him down.”
The tournament opened, and the Springboks played above their heads. To everyone’s surprise, they won their first game. In fact, they made it into the final game against New Zealand, a perennial power in rugby. It was like Slippery Rock playing Notre Dame. And yet, at the end of regulation, the game was tied.
President Mandela was in the stands, wearing a Springbok jersey. During the timeout he brought a South African children’s choir out of the stands. They sang an old African miners’ song which to them is sort of like Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was to the slaves in this country. Within minutes, 65,000 people in the stadium were standing and singing this black African miners’ song. Andrew Young said, “I don’t know anything about rugby, and I don’t understand the words of the song, but I was in tears.”
When the Springboks took the field, they were unstoppable. They won the World Rugby Championship. And for the next 24 hours, whites danced with blacks in the streets of South Africa. One of the most divided nations on the planet was united by something some people consider insignificant — a rugby match. But God used it ot help heal a nation.”

Have you ever tried to retell at story?
A story that had rocked you with laughter or some other emotion, and seen it fall flat. We’ve come up with some standard comebacks for this of course, comebacks we use to cover ourselves and our embarrasement:
“I guess you just had to be there.”
“It loses something in translation.”
“You just don’t get it.”

Storytelling, whether funny story or drama, is what you could call an unrepeatable art form. The variety of people listening, the inflections in your voice, the mood of the day, the color of the sky — these all combine to create a one time only atmosphere for the words you speak. A story may bring a tear or a smile at one telling, and yet, the very next audience experiences the same words in a completely different way.

Jesus chose to speak in parables:
That’s what Mark’s gospel tells us. There are those who say that this is annoying, and maybe a little dishonest. Why didn’t he just come out and say what he meant? Why leave behind all these cryptic sayings, loaded with innuendo, instead of a crisp code of laws or a stack of really good essays or books, with titles like: “How to be a Good disciple”, A Brief Definition of the Kingdom of God,” or “Seven Key Features of the Coming Kingdom and What This Means to You.”

But no. Instead we have this cross-eyed, cryptic, incomplete, awkward, and at times seemingly absurd collection of sayings known as Jesus’ parables.

A list of rules never changes:
Rules don’t adapt well to changing situations. Written essays are like insects encased in amber — beautiful and precisely formed, but no longer vital and alive. It takes the fluid format of a story, a tale that can never be told in precisely the same way again, to keep breathing new life into the Good News.

If you really like rules:
Try reading again the book of Leviticus or maybe the first few chapters of Numbers. When is the last time you really enjoyed reading this?

The parables, the stories that Jesus told tend to grab us they seem to entice us into the world that Jesus was talking about. Without that flow, even the Word of God can become a hard read.

By preaching in parables:
Jesus let each listener make the Good News his or her own story. As we become swept up in the story, we too become a part of a new parable — the parable of our own lives. Taking it all together, our individual experiences of the kingdom, our personal stories of God’s work and witness in our lives, end up creating a new gospel. We all know the gospel of Matthew, and of Mark, of Luke and John. the church has almost 2,000 years of those books to celebrate and to read over and again. Those are the faith stories that have brought all of us to a greater vision of Jesus.

Along with those gospels:
There are other faith stories that we have to share with each other, I don’t know that we can call them gospels, but they are an extension of what the gospel has done in the hearts and lives of those who came after. We hear the parables, the stories of Augustin, of Martin Luther, Thomas Merton, John Wesley and these too are a part of the vital tradition because they too speak of the power of the gospel. These are parables for us to read too. Then there are these other gospel parables that some of us will know and others will not, the gospel of Grandma, or Aunt Mary, or my friend Joseph, or maybe the story of that kid at camp, I don’t remember his name, but it was a good time.

You and I are in the process:
The process of writing our own gospel portions, our own parables, our own stories of our encounters with God, with the Good News of Jesus Christ. As we live it, we also write our gospel chapters, that is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Stories are what connects us together as human beings, they connect us as families to our past, to the world around us and to one another in the church and in our daily lives.
It is the parable, the story, that allows us all to experience the gospel fully for ourselves. What chapter did you add to your gospel story this week? How does it witness to the power of the gospel in your life?
Perhaps you added:
“The parable of the Crabby Boss and the Christian Coworker?”
“The Parable of the Kids Who won’t clean up their rooms and the Mother who is threatening to Ground them for life.”
How about “The Flat Tire and the new clothes?”
“The Parable of the Parents Who Don’t Have a Clue.”
“The Parable of the Empty Cupboard and the Overflowing ‘Bills To Pay’ Slot.”
Of course these don’t seem to be parables or gospel stories while they are what you are living through, but they stand the test of time. Later as we look at the happenings of our lives, we see the kingdom showing through, we realize the truth of God’s presence in all of this.

What do we do then with this gospel power, the wonderful gospel stories of our lives and those who came before us. We have those stories that we all know, the gospels that we celebrate each week, and we have the stories that are our own experience of the gospel. Monday is tomorrow, the world is sorely in need of the gospel, you carry it with you. Karin Bacon of Houston TX says: “We can’t preach the Good News and then be the bad news.” Disciples are the Good News. Let the others you meet read the Good News in you.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Amen.”

So what is your story? Slavery was ended by the War between the States, it took many years to end the vestiges of that horror, but end it we did. I hate that today, we are for some reason returning to the hatreds of those days and to the death and destruction that was seen then and again today. We as a society need to wake up and realize who we are and the greatness we can achieve together. I hope all of us can begin again to walk the path of life together.  It is what God has for us to do, whether you believe in Him or not, it is still our best and brightest hope in for our nation to survive and become great once again.

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Pastor and Wife

John & Yvonne Quigley, John is a retired Pastor in the UMC. This blog is about the journey I am on with Christ.