The Story after the Story
Do you know how one good story can catch the essence of someone’s personality, or the kernel of some great truth, or paint the picture of the way things were? Most of us love a good story.
I remember meeting a new neighbor once…. She was telling me about her family, and her daughter was with her, so I got to meet her. Her son, a nine year old, was not there at the time, so she used a story as her way to describe him.
“When he was four years old, we were at a family wedding. During the middle of the reception, the mother-of-the-groom walked on stage and took the microphone and said, ‘I need a few gentlemen to come help… the ladies restroom has been overrun by frogs!’”
“Somehow, I just knew…” our neighbor said. “Immediately I looked at my son and asked, ‘Did you put frogs in the ladies’ restroom?!”
“Yes, Ma’am,” the little one answered. He knew not to lie.
“How many frogs did you put in?” “Four, and Joey put in some too.” (His cousin was apparently an accomplice.)
“But why?” she asked. “Why would you put frogs in the ladies room?”
“Because Men wouldn’t be afraid of frogs!”
She told me that as she was still fretting, alternating between embarrassment and frustration with her headstrong child, he reached over, put his little four-year-old hand on her arm and said, “It’s ok, Mommy, we didn’t go IN the ladies room. We just opened the door and threw them in.” As if his mom was most upset about him being in the wrong gender restroom.
After that story, I felt like I had a good feel for this wonderfully creative and mischievous boy.
The stories we tell in scripture often have the same effect. Some of the greatest stories in the bible are not only interesting or fun to tell and to hear, they give us an insight into the character of God, or the kernel of truth about life.
Our lesson from Acts, and the Gospel of Luke share with us a good story, but like that friend of yours who starts telling a good story too close to the punch line, I’m left feeling like I need to back up and say, “Yeah… but don’t forget he part of the story that happened before that!”
The Acts and Luke stories start right after a big event upon which the story we heard hinges. In a way, we are getting the story after the big story.
In our Gospel story from Luke, we break into the story just after the story of the Road to Emmaus, a story we hear this third week of Easter in year A of our Lectionary cycle, last year on this week.
Now that’s a really great story…. In the evening of that first Easter Sunday, two disciples walked out of Jerusalem, completely dejected by the happenings of the last few days. They are met by a stranger, who is really Jesus, who opens up the scriptures to them, and they begin to understand what happened. Then, as they reach their place in Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, they invite their companion in for dinner and lodging. When they sit at the table, he breaks the bread, and as soon as he does, they recognize who Jesus is… and bam! He disappears.
Today, we get the story after the story.
And, truth be told, where we pick up is also a good story in and of itself. The two disciples high tale it back to the Upper Room in Jerusalem to tell the others that, yes in fact, Jesus has risen, and they have seen him. And, as this is going on, Jesus himself shows up in their midst. This is Luke’s version of part of the Gospel we heard last week from John’s perspective.
On the evening of the first day Jesus, when the disciples were together and the doors were locked, Jesus appeared among them, showing them his hands and his side. But whereas John tells us the guest list (namely that Thomas was Not there),….
Luke tells us the menu (at least what Jesus ate – the broiled fish ) to show the disciples that he really was flesh and bone and not a ghost.
From these stories we get a good idea of Jesus’ personality. Jesus walks with us. Jesus is with us in the breaking of the bread. Jesus is with us when we break bread with one another. Jesus is real, not a ghost, and can appear anywhere he wishes, and where Jesus wants to be is with his followers.
In the story from the Acts of the Apostles, our passage starts just after that great story of when Peter and John heal the lame man at the temple. Some of you know that story. It’s such a good story that there’s even a children’s song about it. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFZJFXvuv0A)
Peter and John went to pray,
they met a lame man on the way;
He asked for alms and held up his palms
and this is what Peter did say:
“Silver and gold have I none,
But such as I have I give thee,
In the name of Je—sus Chri—ist of Nazareth, …. rise up and walk!”
He went walking and leaping and praising God,
walking and leaping and praising God.
“In the name of Je—sus Chri—ist of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
Now, there’s a great story! A man who was crippled from birth, who, the scriptures tell us, had to be carried to and from the steps of the temple in order to beg, was now walking and leaping and causing such a commotion, that the people ran over to Peter and John to see what was going on.
And when the people get there, when we get there at the beginning of our reading today, what do we get? Another joyful miracle?
Uh, no. Not exactly… Instead, we get a sermon from Peter….a sermon explaining why there was a miracle, along with a little bit of finger wagging to the crowd who chose to set a murderer free while crucifying the author of life.
So, admittedly, the story from Acts we heard this morning doesn’t have quite the same pizzazz as the story that preceded it does… at least to me. But both these stories from Acts tell us about who God is, who Jesus is, and how we can respond. People were healed by Jesus while he lived, and people continue to be healed by the Risen Christ today through faith. Our response is to repent, or turn around, and follow Jesus’ path.
As we look at both the Luke and Acts “Stories after the Stories” we can see that they have one key word in common. That is the word, “witness.” Peter says, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”
Jesus says to the disciples gathered in the upper room, “”Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
These stories after the stories bear witness to the truth in the stories that preceded them… and even more, they share the truth of the ongoing stories before those stories.
The stories we hear today are faithful witnesses to the fact that God has been working since creation to reconcile a broken world to himself. Jesus’ resurrection, demonstrated by the lively stories of his appearances and miraculous healings, show that God, through Jesus, has finally fulfilled the scriptures, inviting all to partake. Jesus explained this ongoing witness of scripture to his disciples; Peter tied the miraculous events of that day to the overarching thrust of God’s story since Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
You and I live in the story after the story. And we too, are called to be witnesses.
Few, if any of us, will have a direct encounter with resurrected Jesus in his bodily form, but we do encounter him each week as we gather around the table. He is still known to us in the breaking of the bread. You may have experiences where God comes to you, unexpectedly, in a new way, or where Scripture is opened to you, or you have a direct experience of the Holy Spirit. To these events you can be a witness.
Rarely will someone see a crippled man rise up immediately and walk, and dance, but some of you have been witnesses to other miraculous healings, whether they happened immediately or over time through medicine and the work of doctors. Like Peter, we can also have the opportunity to reflect on God’s current action in light of the whole of God’s story, and in it, find places where we need repentance in our own lives, or where we can be grateful for how God has acted.
But keep your eyes open, most of you will indeed find times in your life when you, too, are walking and leaping and praising God… when you’ve experienced some aspect of healing, or a great opportunity has opened up to give us a whole new future, and you know it’s an answer to prayer… then, you can tell your story. You can be a witness.
We live in the story after the story. We live in the part of God’s story that is written after the bible stories were written down. Yes, we need to know those old stories, because, they help us get to know God better. That way, we can recognize his authorship as God writes new chapters in the story of our own lives today. . To those stories, we can be witnesses. AMEN.