It’s no secret that I love a good story—in any form. Tuesday of this week, I sat with three good friends at The Horse Brass Pub in Portland, sharing stories. These are good friends; three of us are long time friends who know each other well—decades of friendship. One is a “newbie” but already more like a decades old friend. We are bound together by stories. Stories of our separate lives and our lives together. Stories of our children and marriages. Stories of our loves and fears. Stories of Warner Pacific—stories of its light and the darker stories as well. We know the stories well—many of them we can talk about in code; remember that old joke when someone shouts out a number and everyone laughs? Yet, we can still be surprised by those stories. It is not unusual to hear one of us say, “I’d forgotten that.” “I always wondered about that.” “Oh, I didn’t know….”
So, we sat around this table in The Horse Brass Pub and we laughed and grew serious and laughed again. We toasted one of us. We mentioned the names of other friends who were not at this table. We lamented and we celebrated and we laughed and we told stories.
We were at Horse Brass because one of us was just accepted into a doctoral program; he wanted to thank us for our part in the journey to date, and we wanted to celebrate him and this new chapter in his life. Two of the four have completed that doctoral journey and shared stories of their time and raised thoughtful questions—wisdom questions based on those stories. I might even say warning stories. Be careful stories. Don't forget your relationships and priority stories. Our stories and our mutual story gave us permission to speak thus to each other. In Palmer’s words, over the years we had entered “troth” with each other. We are covenanted within one of the oldest guilds—we are teachers—but more even than that we are bound to each other by our truthful stories—our personal stories to which we have each contributed: co-authors.
Another good old friend likes to talk about how we are all story-formed. We are who we are because of the stories we inhabit—and the stories that inhabit us.
This morning the lectionary contains two truthful stories about persons who broke their troth. They are, actually, like all biblical narratives, stories within stories: Nathan’s powerful story of theft and power and wealth and judgment that traps David and Jesus’ simple story of debt and forgiveness and hospitality that traps Simon in his deceit.
Nathan tells David a story that angers David. It is a story of deceit; it is a story of the abuse of power—the rich owner of a great flock simply takes what doesn’t belong to him; he takes what is precious to another simply because he can. This story parallels the story of David’s own exercise of power through lust and deceit and treachery and murder. David can take what he wants and so David takes what he wants. “It’s good to be king.” In the other story, Jesus is a poorly treated guest in a house of power, the home of Simon the Pharisee. The ancient, simple rites of hospitality are not honored. A woman shows up and treats Jesus as Simon should have—out of her own narrative of disenfranchisement; like many the stories of many women in the Bible, it is a narrative of abusive power. But because Jesus tells it, it is also a story of redemption. Jesus tells a simple story of forgiveness and gratitude, highlighting and trapping Simon in his own abuse.
Speaking truth to power is the way the Quakers talk of this. More often than not such truth speaking is storytelling. Again and again, Jesus answers his accusers, those seeking to entrap him, with words like these: “There was a man who had two sons.” “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep….” “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins….” “A man was going down from Jerusalem….”
Each time, just as in the story David and Nathan and Bathsheba and Uriah, the stories of Jesus are simple and direct, not open to much interpretation, although open to wide application. There is edginess to these stories: “double-edged” stories.
They are stories of judgment. They are stories of redemption. They shut doors and they open doors. They are stories that open doors of possibilities—conversion. David sees that and confesses and is forgiven (although the consequences continue). Simon? Well, we don’t know Simon’s response, but for the woman, there is new hope. Is it too great a stretch to include her among those women who become Jesus’ disciples? I don’t think so. The younger son is welcomed home; we don’t know about the older brother. The lost sheep is back in the fold and the woman finds her coin. The man by the side of the road is cared for and, likely, restored to health.
And, of course, we, too, are in these stories. As we sat in The Horse Brass, our lives and stories are encompassed by these old, ever new, stories. They are also our stories; they are my stores. I am in these stories. The times I was tempted and yielded to the lust of petty power and self-promotion. The times I wanted and took what wasn’t mine to take—simply because I could. The times I hurt others in order to make myself appear greater or better—or just superior. The times I broke troth and was more David than Uriah and more Simon than the woman. But restoration is also part of these stories; judgment in scripture, I think, is nearly always about hope and redemption. Confession brings forgiveness. Forgiveness restores relationship. Relationship produces health and growth “so that I might live to God.”
The psalmist says,
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did
Not hide my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my
Transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the
Guilt of my sin.
Thank God for the Story that forms us in ways that allow us to hope—that stories that somehow make it possible to say that it is not I “but Christ who lives in me.”
Beware stories—and be grateful.