Vacation has come and gone, now it's back to work. This is true for me and likely it is true for you reading this, as well. The office is the same as when I left. There's mail and email piled up, people to see, meetings to attend, things to do. I'm sure the wild kittens under the building have grown, but they and their mother are hiding today because it is raining. As the day proceeds, life settles into its usual rhythm and routine.
I've been reading a book by Marshall Gregory entitled Shaped by Stories: The Ethical Power of Narratives. It's an insightful study about the way stories mold us into the people we become. Gregory says that human beings crave stories, and one of the reasons we do is because they help us make sense of our lives. Reading (or hearing, or watching a movie), places us in someone else's life. The story frames that life, giving it order and bringing it to a conclusion that reveals its purpose. We don't know the conclusion of our own lives; knowing what our lives "mean" or what they are "for" is difficult to discern. When we enter someone else's stories we encounter possibilities that we can reflect on and apply to ourselves.
We need stories to help us sort through the disorder of daily life, as one thing simply follows another without cohesion. I brush my teeth and drive to work; I sit at my desk; I buy groceries; I talk to my parents on the phone; I exercise or maybe nap; I play with my cats; I go to bed. Those events do not tie into one another except by the fact that I do them all. But when we watch a TV show or listen to our favorite music, there is a clear line of progress, there is harmony between the parts, there is a satisfying ending. The story gives us a way to think about day to day living; it helps us make sense of the world.
God comes to us in stories. The stories of scripture beckon us to enter them and experience along with others God's nearness, God's judgment, God's call to trust God and thereby live a rich and full life. Which are the two Sundays when most people attend worship? Christmas and Easter: the occasions on which our most vital stories are told - stories we love to hear - the birth of God's Son in Bethlehem, and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Our salvation itself is a story - the living, the dying and the rising of Christ. Because God's Word is given to us in story we can step into it ourselves, live the experience through what we hear and read, and then ponder what it means for our lives.
At Shepherd King there is a different story every Sunday. This Sunday we will hear about the lost sheep. What a pertinent topic! All of us know what it is like to feel lost and alone, shut-out. The theme of this week's proclamation, however, is not only about being lost, but about the arduous search God undertakes for us. God is not a number cruncher, content to let some remain lost because "that's just how it is." God pursues us until each of us has been found by love, by welcome, by the purposeful life God gives.
Stories change us. They shape our lives. This Sunday's story tells us we are of great value to God even when we feel forgotten. The more we hear this tale the more we know we are beloved, and our neighbor is beloved. The stories alter our perspective and our actions. Knowing we are so honored by God that God never gives up on us, we learn to honor one another with unfailing love and hope.
Open yourself to the story of God in the world, of God's love for you and for all. It will revive your spirit and lift up your heart.