A function of the Church in our time is to build relationships; to bring people together; to foster the sense of community among people of differing beliefs; and to assert our common humanity. Too many in our country are actively promoting hatred, fear, and suspicion in an attempt to sow division and fragment our society. We model a different way: one of inclusion that acknowledges and celebrates our diversity.
We entered a covenant - an indissoluble bond with God - at Baptism: that we would love our neighbor as our selves, seeking Christ in all persons, and that we will strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.
This does not mean that we have to agree with everyone - far from it. What it does mean is that we are honor-bound to seek the divine in everyone and respect them as a human being. It means that we are to model a behavior that listens to understand, to disagree civilly on the substance when we do, to see our selves in each other, and to explore the nature of our humanity together. It means that we are to work for the common good.
On Martha's Vineyard, we all live on the same island. As citizens of the United States, we share one nation, and our future is inextricably linked with each other, and as citizens of the world, we all share the same planet. We believe that solutions to complex problems that face all of us are better resolved through relationships that unite people with different ideas and opinions.
As part of the faith community, we are called to aspire to the best of who we can be. Modeling respect, having difficult conversations, and never forgetting for an instant that the person in front of us is just as much a child of God as we are, is part of who we are called to be.
A colleague of mine told me about a story-telling website. "It's called the Moth" he said. "People get up and tell their own stories, and its become very popular. Maybe we can do something similar here." After a while, I finally checked it out (https://themoth.org) and now I listen whenever I can.
What further caught my attention was the sentence in the sign-off at the end of the broadcast: "The Moth Radio Hour is co-produced by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts and presented by PRX."
This is close to home!
I went to the website and found the section that offers Storytelling Tips & Tricks. Perfect, I thought, maybe this will help my preaching.
There, in their guidelines, is the reason that I keep listening to the stories of so many different people: Stakes. "What do you stand to gain or lose? Why is what happens in the story important to you? If you can’t answer this, then think of a different story."
I don't know what I stand to gain or lose when I preach - I haven't thought much about it until now, although I have told some vulnerable stories from the pulpit. Just asking the question is to inject a sermon with immediacy and urgency, as does 'why is what happens in the story important to me'.
Now, as I listen to other peoples' stories, I listen to the content. And I listen for the why. So that when I tell our story from the pulpit, you will know that something is at stake and hear the why as well.