“I Love to Tell the Story” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our worship experience on September 4, 2022 — the 13th Sunday after Pentecost. The text upon which it was/is based is Acts 26:1-18. To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20220904
“I Love to Tell the Story”
Pentecost 13 (NL4) John B. Valentine
Acts 26:1-18 September 4, 2022
“I LOVE TO TELL THE STORY ....”
As some of you know ... there’s been the pitter-patter of little feet running through the Valentine house for the past three or four weeks.
Six-year-old Nathan and four-year-old Xander ... along with their mom ... have been living with us while the house into which they’ll be moving tomorrow gets readied for their arrival.
Now we’ve had a great time with the boys ... for sure ...
• Riding scooters and going on hikes ...
• Trying to catch lizards and creeping things in the backyard ...
• Going to our first youth soccer games in like nineteen years.
But I think the thing that has brought the biggest smile to my face over the past month has been the nightly supplication ...
“Grampa ... will you read us a story?”
Because as soon as I say ‘yes’ to such a request ... there’s a couple pairs of feet doing a happy dance ... and off racing down the hallway ... in search of an appropriate publication!
Trust me ... just the sound of those feet doing that ‘happy dance’ on our hardwood floors is worth the price of admission!
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But it’s not just Nathan and Xander that love a good story ...
It’s not just grandchildren and children more generally that love a good story ...
Just about all of us love a good story ... do we not???
Now granted ... the particular stories which we love may differ a bit by age and interest ...
• “Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree” .... or
• Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” ... or
• Tolkien’s expansive “Lord of the Rings” ... or
• Charlotte Brontë’s insightful“Jane Eyre” ...
But ... at the end of the day ... we are hard-wired to like stories ...
I think ... in part ... because by entering into someone else’s story ... someone else’s reality ... we hope to make sense of our own.
Chew on that .. If you would ... for just a minute: “We are hard-wired to like stories because — by entering into someone else’s story — we hope to make sense of our own.”
In other words ... we love stories because we HAVE stories ... ALL of us have stories.
Now you probably know ...
• some folks who LOVE to tell their stories ... and will tell them to anyone and everyone in earshot ... and ...
• some folks who are SHEEPISH about telling their stories because they don’t really think there’s much to tell ... although ... in my experience ... those are some of the most fascinating stories to hear ... and ...
• some folks who will ONLY tell their stories with a few very confidential friends ...
But ... at the end of the day ... ALL of us have a story to tell ...
And ... in a similar vein ... ALL of us have a story to tell about the ways in which our stories intersect with that story which has been called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”
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You see ... this morning’s scripture reading was the first part of Acts 26 ... which is usually labeled “Paul’s Defense Before Agrippa”.
If you remember from last week ... Paul was leaving behind his friends in Ephesus and returning to Jerusalem ... and ... in no short order ... upon arriving in Jerusalem ... Paul goes and gets arrested ... ostensibly for making a ruckus in the Temple and disturbing the peace.
So Paul goes on trial ...
• first before a Roman military tribunal ... and
• second before something called the Sanhedrin ... which was the chief Jewish legislative body back in the day ... and
• then before Felix ... the Roman Governor ... and
• finally before Agrippa ... formally Herod Agrippa the Second ... the King of Palestine and parts of Syria and Lebanon.
Now ... if you’re one of those folks who notices that the series of kangaroo courts that Paul dealt with in Jerusalem feels a whole lot like the series of kangaroo courts which Jesus had to deal with in Jerusalem a few decades before ...
I’d have to say that’s a great observation!
In fact ... Luke ... the author of the book of Acts seems to go out of his way to identify similarities between what it was that Jesus had to endure and what it was that Jesus’ disciples had to endure ...
And particularly what it was that Paul had to endure.
Kind of as a way to confirm that Paul was numbered among those “whose testimony should be listened to” on account of because what Paul himself had to go through.
But what exactly is Luke’s point for including all of this detail here as to what went down in this encounter between Paul and King Agrippa?
And what it is that Paul’s defense ... his story ... might have to say to us??
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Actually ... before we go any further ...we should probably admit a couple of things about this text:
The first is that we Lutherans don’t usually read this story in the context of worship.
In fact ... if I’m not mistaken ... this is the first time in the course of my thirty-four years as a pastor that I have ever even heard Acts 26 read in the context of worship ... much less had it as my text upon which to preach.
And I’m guessing that the reason why is because we Lutherans ... we so-called ‘Evangelical Lutherans’ ... always seem to get a little bit mealy-mouthed when it comes to the subject of evangelism.
While we may well love to sing “I Love to Tell the Story” ... we’re none-too-enamored as a group with actually telling that story ... telling our story ... telling Jesus’ story ...
And I think that part of the reason we avoid reading this particular text in worship is that it pretty well calls us to account!
Secondly ... we should acknowledge that ... while this text invites us to tell the story in a public forum as did Paul ...
This account is highlighted by Luke as a prime example of what the best of Christian apologetics might look like.
You and I are not expected to be:
• as articulate ...
• as bold ...
• as convincing ...
• as determined ...
• as eloquent ...
• as fearless ...
After all ... Paul had:
• a dozen years or so of seminary training ... and
• an actual physical encounter with the risen Jesus ... and
• another dozen years or so of practice actually telling his Jesus story all over Greece and Asia Minor before getting to this point.
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But all that being said ... don’t miss the point of what Luke is trying to tell us here! For this is important.
I mean ... look at HOW Paul tells his story.
Paul doesn’t begin by telling Jesus’ story ... he begins by telling his own story.
• How it was that he had been brought up in the faith ...
• How it was that he grew up as a strictly observant Jew ...
• How it was that he became the chief persecutor of the Christians because he thought that was what God was calling him to do ... calling out their crazy talk about how Jesus had been raised from the dead.
The point being ... for our faith-stories to be authentic ... they should probably begin with us ... with our stories ... because those stories we know awfully well.
But then Paul’s story changes. Jesus enters the picture. And Paul tells King Agrippa about how he had an actual physical encounter with that same resurrected Jesus whom he had spent his best life’s energy persecuting.
Paul’s story intersects with Jesus’ story ... and there at that intersection ... that Paul encounters the Gospel ... and grace ... and life.
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Now I KNOW that some of you ... some of us ... have had something in our lives that feels at least a little bit like Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus that day ...
But most of us haven’t.
Most of us can’t point to a particular moment in our lives wherein Jesus so radically confronted us.
But I suspect that many of us CAN point to times and places in our lives where Jesus ... and the gifts Jesus brings ... became ... and still becomes ... a bit more real to us.
I mean ...
• Where and/or when ... in your life ... has faith become more real to you?
• Where and/or when ... in your life ... has love become more real to you?
• Where and/or when... in your life ... has hope become more real to you?
• Where and/or when ... in your life ... has peace ... or community ... or joy ... become more real to you?
Was it when you were sitting in a hospital room ... waiting ... hoping ... praying ... for a good outcome?
Was it when you were kneeling at the altar rail ... hearing the words of the promise of Holy Communion?
Was it when you were driving down a long and lonesome highway ... and felt overwhelmed by a spirit of peace?
Was it sitting in the presence of friends ... and rejoicing in the awareness that you were loved?
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This ... my friends ... IS the promise of the Gospel.
That Jesus’ story intersects with our own.
That it’s not just all your story ... or his story ... or her story ... or whoever’s story.
It’s that there are times and places where Jesus’ story intersects with our stories ... even as it did with Paul.
And ... in a certain way ... that is the grand conclusion of the Book of Acts that we’ve been walking through all summer ...
That those places where Jesus’ story intersects with our stories are stories that are definitely worth telling!