the unfolding stories of the 194th Olympiad: “opening ceremonies: we’ve a story to tell to the nations,” august 7, 2016

opening ceremonies

Responsive Call to Worship
We have made,
even of storytelling,
a competition.
We want everyone to hear our story
instead of tell theirs.
We want to be the ones heard
instead of the ones listening.
What insecurity is this—
in which one story wins
and the other stories lose?
Storytelling at its best
models a sharing—
taking turns—
a time to speak and a time to listen.
Oh, and it’s not that stories can’t (and shouldn’t)
be evaluated
as better or worse—
more or less true,
but the point shouldn’t be
to winnow stories down
to one truest and best,
but rather to encourage the telling
of more and more stories
that are truer and better.

Meditations
We tell ourselves stories
in order to live.
—Joan Didion

The purpose of a storyteller
is not to tell you how to think
[or what to think!],
but to give you questions
to think upon.
—Brandon Sanderson

After nourishment, shelter, and companionship,
stories are the thing we need most in the world.
—Philip Pullman

I will tell you something about stories . . .
They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off illness and death.
—Leslie Marmon Silko

People take on the shapes of the songs and the stories
that surround them,
especially if they don’t have their own song.
—Neil Gaiman

The world is shaped by two things—
stories told and the memories they leave behind.
—Vera Nazarian

Power consists to a large extent
in deciding what stories will be told.
—Carolyn G. Heilbrun

The one who tells the best story
shapes the culture.
—David Walsh

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.

Hear this, O elders,
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children another generation.
Joel 1:2-3

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.
Recite them to your children and talk about them
when you are at home and when you are away,
when you lie down and when you rise.
Bind them as a sign on your hand,
fix them as an emblem on your forehead,
and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
The Olympiad has not begun;
the Olympiad is over.
The 2016 Summer Olympics, on the other hand, are upon us!
Do you know that distinction?

The word Olympiad actually represents the four years between Olympic Games.
So the first Olympiad dates back to the four years
from the summer of the first Olympics in 776 BCE
to the summer of the second Olympics in 772 BCE.

Friday, reckoning from the beginning—from 776 BCE,
we ended the 698th Olympiad,
though you probably won’t hear these Olympics identified that way—
as the 699th Olympic Games.
Because by modern reckoning, which begins its count
with the Summer Olympics of 1896 in Athens,
these are the 31st Olympic Games,
leading to the 31st Olympiad.

So the Olympiad is over.
We are in the midst of 17 days of competition
in 306 events in 28 sports.

How many of you this past Friday, tuned in
to the spectacle of the opening ceremonies?
I actually didn’t.
I’d been planning too.
For a year.
Ever since planning this worship series last preachers’ camp.
But we were on the road back from this year’s preachers’ camp,
and were in Floyd, VA.
Anybody know Floyd?
South of Christiansburg and Blacksburg.
Southwest of Roanoke.

We happened upon Floyd five or six years ago,
when, coming back from Preachers’ Camp
on the Blue Ridge Parkway,
as is our custom,
we were driven off the Parkway by road work,
and, following the detour signs, ended up in Floyd—
at the Red Rooster Coffee Roasters—
which is located right behind the bookstore.
In the Floyd Country Store, they were setting up folding chairs,
getting ready for the Friday Night Jamboree—
post-it notes on the chairs closest to the stage
marked Bud, Martha, Larry, Edna, Thaddeus, Eleanor.

This time we planned to get there for the Jamboree!
We drove into town—through the one red-light
at the intersection of Main and Locust streets,
parked and walked back to OddF3llows Cantina and Tapas.
We passed seven bands in the span of less than a block—
or seven gatherings of people playing together (who knows!).
After we ate and the rain moved in, when we walked back,
one of the bands had taken over the inside of the Floyd Barber shop!
People packed in, standing in the doorway,
peering in from the sidewalk through the front window.

At the Floyd Country Store, the music started at 6:30—
went until 10:30 (or the band stops playing).
$5 cover charge if you go to the back
where “[o]n the dance floor are homemakers and teachers,
farmers and preachers, children and grandparents,
newcomers and old-timers, all in this place
to hear the music and share in a moment”
Jason Frye, Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip
(Berkeley, CA: Avalon Travel, 2015).

That’s where we were Friday night.
So whether you did or didn’t see the opening ceremonies,
let me invite you to consider
what we might have to say to the world,
had we such world-wide attention.

What’s the story we have to tell?
If it’s not a national one—not a cultural one.
Because we do have a story to tell to the nations, do we not?
That’s what we sing anyway.
And it’s traditionally the story of Jesus we’re talking about.
That’s the story we have to tell.

Jerome dated the birth of Jesus, by the way,
to the third year of the 194th Olympiad.
Weird, a little bit, isn’t it? To combine in our minds
Olympic stories and Jesus stories?

But the overarching title of the sermon series for the next three Sundays
is the unfolding stories of the 194th Olympiad
the still unfolding stories of Jesus
amidst these days of still unfolding Olympic games.

We’ve a story to tell to the nations.
Now some correctives are significant—
worth mentioning.
Two years ago, the Alliance sponsored a convocation,
the theme of which was:
we’ve a story to hear from the nations.

And part of the fun of the opening ceremonies is, after all,
hearing the stories of another place—
of another people—
listening for what is distinctive and different
even amidst what is similar and familiar.

Listening to others—valuing their story
is a very much needed corrective to the arrogant colonial patriarchal
tone of having the story to tell that every nation needs to hear.

Within the story we have to tell to the nations,
we also have a story to tell to our nation
because we get it as wrong as any.

We also have a story to tell ourselves, right?
It’s never just or even mostly about telling others.

Nonetheless, correctives acknowledged,
we do have a story to tell.
So what’s the story we want to tell?

My story, I’ve told you before,
is one of wanting to believe before I did.
And I’d like to tell you I remember wanting to believe in a story
spun out of ideals and dreams and visions—
hopes and prayers.
But honestly, what I remember
is wanting to believe I was included,
and afraid of being excluded.
Because the story told was one in which I was not included,
or in which there were conditions to being included—
in which I had to believe—had to profess
in order to be included,
which, to me, feels more like being excluded.

The story I would want to tell today would be a little different.
It’s the story of Jesus,
but it doesn’t have to be told that way.
Not at first.

That’s not to make the story easier—
to take away the high expectations,
but to tell a story defined in and by relationships—
a story of radical grace—
of a shocking inclusivity—
of an amazing love—
of a commitment to justice and peace—
a story with unconditional acceptance from the get-go—
you are included—
no exceptions—
no conditions.
There are also high expectations of you—the highest.

It’s a story rejecting fear—
rejecting violence—
rejecting manipulation and exploitation—
because of what we say yes to.

I’ve been a part of an Alliance visioning group.
We kept coming back to this idea of a yes at the heart of who we are.
An affirmation that undergirds any rejections—any condemnations.

In our time together, we came across a quote
by one of the founders of the Alliance,
Mahan Siler, retired pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist in Raleigh.
Wise man. Good man. Good words:

“The Alliance of Baptists was catapulted from a resounding ‘Yes!’
On the surface it looked otherwise.
At the time, in 1987, we were Southern Baptists declaring ‘No’
to the turns toward biblical inerrancy, exclusive male clergy,
autocratic pastoral leadership, narrow denominationalism,
piety without social and economic justice,
and the violation of state/church separate freedoms.
Our covenant was a counter ‘Yes’ to each turn.
But in retrospect, there was a deeper Yes at work.
We were expressing Yes to our sense of God’s movement
through the church in our day.
This Yes of discernment has been the continuity amid the discontinuities.
Immediately this Yes took on new manifestations—
theological education, mission as partnership,
interracial and interfaith relationships,
welcoming different sexual identities, ecological justice
and Alliance structure as partnership.
The forms of Yes vary; the courage to risk our discernments of Yes
remain … and will remain.”

I wrote a piece (I think we called it a prologue)
for that Alliance visioning group earlier this year.
I think it’s relevant this morning.

This we have heard—
have seen with our own eyes—
have touched with our own hands.
This that we know,
we name and share
that joy may be complete.

In the beginning,
yes!—
breathed—breathing.

We first came to be
in yes—
through yes.

Without yes
there is not.

And yes
is gracefull,
depthfull,
beautyfull,
truthfull,
hopefull,
faithfull,
joyfull.

Yes is always beginning.
Yes is possibility—

ongoing conversation
on the way.

Yes includes and invites—
shares and participates—

creates deeper relationship—
creates new relationship,
and it is good.

Yes blesses.

Yes does confront life
in the stark truth of its unfolding,
and so yes sometimes (often) says no,
but it’s always and only no
in the key of yes.

Oh, there can be angry no’s—
no’s of rejection and condemnation—
no’s to bitter tears of shared grief and pain,
but still,
they never overshadow the joyfull yes
of the Most High overshadowing all that is.

No without a yes context
is just a loud noise
signifying not much at all.

Yet if people only hear loud no’s—
and feel angry no’s—
not yes,
how can that possibly signify good news
for all people?
And that is a lot more than not much at all.

Still we believe
yes not only precedes no,
it subverts no—
without ever becoming no.

For even when rejected,
yes says yes.
Even when betrayed and denied,
yes turns the other alternative,
and hope and possibility remain definitive.

Yes is a way
ever onward
into more—
more righteousness—
more justice—
more humility—
into what is transformation—
what some call redemption
or salvation,
and what is,
and is obviously,
such good news.

Ours is a journey
discerning the way of yes—
in conversation—
telling the story of yes
(that has too often become the counter-story of yes)
and the stories of all who summon
the courage to risk yes—
whose hearts burn together—
light and heat,
along the way.

It’s the Jesus story.
Did you hear it?
It’s the ancient story.

Hear, O community of God:
The Lord is our God—
the God who is yes who is love who is here and there—
that God and only that God.
You shall love the Lord your God—
who loves you—
with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your might—
just as you are loved—wholly, wholly, holy.
Treasure the stories of binding together—
of including—
of forgiving—
of loving—
of working for peace and justice—
the stories of wonder surprise and joy.
Recite them to your children and talk about them
when you are at home and when you are away,
when you lie down and when you get up,
in your comings and in your goings.
Tell your children and let your children tell their children,
and their children another generation.

A week ago today, at 5 a.m. we left Baltimore
headed to the North Carolina mountains and preachers’ camp.
We headed west out 70,
cut through the country on 340 and then 7 to Winchester
where we got off the road to have breakfast at a Panera at 7 a.m.
The time was important
because to our girls’ surprise,
Natalie and Lilly met us.
Yes!

In the course of breakfast conversation,
Natalie told us how much she liked being in Winchester,
but she then added,
“Lilly is clear that when she grows up,
she’s moving to Maryland and back to Woodbrook!”
Yes!

The other day, Susie and the girls set out to find some shorts for Sydney.
I was going to go by the bank, the library, Barnes & Noble, and the gym.
they set out,
then I did.
ran some of my errands.
came out of the parking garage at the library onto East Chesapeake,
turned left onto Virginia Avenue,
went by the Cinemark on my left and was waiting to turn left onto Joppa—
to turn down into the parking for Barnes & Noble.
You picturing this?
When the girls, having come around the Towson Circle,
pulled up to the same light on Joppa,
waiting to turn left into the mall.
They never saw me.
They do not know that I saw them.
I have not told them about this until now.
Yes!

What are the odds, I remember thinking?
To share in a moment like that?
Astronomical.
Unbelievable.

Yes is a story that binds us together
even when we don’t know it—
when it’s a story we want to believe
even when we can’t—
a story so true it can wait for us to say yes to it—
discover yes in it—
a story proclaiming and celebrating
that our lives are in truth marvelously woven together
with love and grace and hope
in time and place
in family and community.
What are the odds?

It’s a Sunday Morning Jamboree!
People have gathered together here in this room
and in rooms all over the world—
homemakers and teachers,
doctors, accountants, heating and air folks,
physical therapists and preachers,
children and grandparents,
newcomers and old-timers—
all in this place,
to hear the story and share in a moment—
to share in the story and be here in a moment—
the story and the present we want to believe—
that we believe ourselves into—
that believes in us.

There’s no better way to start a week.
Thanks be to God.

Witness of the Open Canon, ii.
seven quotes on the power of story
1. “The world is not made of atoms. It is made of stories.” – Muriel Ruykeser

2. “The most important question anyone can ask is: What myth am I living?” – Carl Jung

3. “A lost coin is found by means of a candle; the deepest truth is found by means of a simple story.” – Anthony De Mello

4. “A life becomes meaningful when one sees [oneself] as an actor within the context of story.” – George Howard

5. “Every story you tell is your own story.” – Joseph Campbell

6. “Those who do not have the power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.” – Salman Rushdie

7. “The real difference between telling what happened and telling a story about what happened is that instead of being a victim of our past, we become master of it.” – Donald Davis

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Joshua 4:1-7
When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan,
the Lord said to Joshua: “Select twelve men from the people,
one from each tribe, and command them,
‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan,
from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you,
and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’ ”
Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites,
whom he had appointed, one from each tribe.
Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark
of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan,
and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder,
one for each of the tribes of the Israelites,
so that this may be a sign among you.
When your children ask in time to come,
‘What do those stones mean to you?’
then you shall tell them
that the waters of the Jordan were cut off
in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord.
When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.
So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial for ever.”

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