Monday, 02 May 2011 00:00

"Listening for the Story", May 1, 2011

“Listening for the Story”
Luke 8:3, 24:1-11
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
May 1, 2011
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Since September, we have been weaving our stories.  Each Sunday, we have explored two stories—a story from scripture and a story from our collective lives at UBC.  We have recognized that wile each story is distinct, they provide comparison, contrast, color and creativity to the tapestry that is our lives here as a community of faith.

Today, we give thanks for the way that David has woven himself into this community.  And like a good fabric, we have modified our hue because of his presence.  We pause, we remember, we give thanks, and then we look forward to the next piece of cloth that gets woven into our tapestry.  Thank you, David for your ministry among us.  I know that your experience at UBC will be a part of your unfolding story.  We’re honored that we are part of your creative tapestry.  Once again, you have introduced us to a seemingly forgotten character in the Biblical drama.  Maybe this emphasizes the fact that we are all key players in the ancient and contemporary narrative of faith.

What do we make of Joanna, this almost unknown person? What does she have to teach us?  Why is Luke insistent on including her?  We encounter her twice and only in Luke’s Gospel.

She first appears in the 8th chapter.  Luke is describing the disciples and then, in an off-handed way, he mentions Mary Magdalene, someone named Susannah and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward.  As David so aptly portrayed, Joanna is a pivotal person.  She’s a strategic person and she’s identified as one who might have conflicting loyalties.  She’s the wife of Herod’s steward, meaning a member of his cabinet.  Was her husband present at the beheading of John the Baptist at Herod’s birthday party?  Was she present?  Why does Luke go to such pains to identify her?  Is it to imply that the movement had infiltrators?  It was already odd enough to have women as followers.  What’s the subversive message Luke is telling us to look for? What are we supposed to listen for in this story?

Luke goes on to say that these women provided for the disciples out of their resources.  This implies that they had funds to share with Jesus and the followers.  But how could they have gotten funds?  It was not common for women to control their own money.  That was the purview of their husbands.  Some scholars have wondered whether Joanna was divorced from Chuza and had received a kettubah—a divorce settlement that made her more likely to be able to remarry.  Was this the source of her “resources”, her funds?  Maybe she got Chuza to redirect Herod’s funds, as David Coleman suggested. We can only speculate.  But we do know that Luke thought it important enough of an indicator to let us know about her relationship with Chuza and the cabinet of Herod.  There’s something deliciously subversive about Joanna.  And I think that’s the point.  WE are to use our resources to be equally subversive.


In the 24th chapter, she accompanies Mary Magdalene to the tomb on Easter Sunday and is given the news of the resurrection of Jesus. They go and tell the story to the disciples and Luke says, “now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them”(24:10,11)

But the women remained persistent and told them the truth as they had seen and experienced it.  They put it in their faces and were relentless in their truth telling. They were listening for the story of resurrection and that’s what they got.

Sometimes we only hear what we are ready to hear.  Two people hear the same words and hear different things. The disciples heard death and destruction.  The women heard resurrection.  Think about how people will tell of an event and point out everything that went wrong.  Another will point out what went right.  Both are factual, but truth lies in what you seek.  It lies in how a story intersects with your story and either reinforces of challenges your worldview.

This past week, the Senate judiciary held a hearing in which they agreed to put a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot banning same-sex marriage. The hearing room was packed with clergy on both sides of the argument.  And then I read in the Star Tribune today an article about Denny Smith, a 60-something heterosexual man who supports marriage equality.  He said, “We don’t have to argue with the opposition.  We don’t have to outshout them.  All we have to do is outnumber them and we will.”  It’s happening across the country as more people are taking to the streets and finding their voices.  As Martin Luther King said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Like Joanna, see out the story that will bring redemption and hope and clarity to our world.  Listen for that story.  That story gives life.

We have been telling our stories all year now.

We have heard the stories of our faithful people in ministry amongst the congregation.

We have woven our stories into the fabric of our lives together.

We have explored whether or not we are living lives of substance.  I think we are.

We are tethered together with the Biblical stories, our individual stories and the stories of our faith community.

But woven throughout all of this is the story of redemption that is as old as the ancients and as present as the new life we experience each day.

It is the story of resurrection.

It is the story of a people believing in God and seeing God in each other.

It is the story of a community drawing out the very best from itself.  And it making the world a better place.

That’s what I see here in this church.

We are remembering our stories.

We are claiming our stories.

We are articulating our stories.

We are celebrating our stories.

But we also realize that these are not just our stories.  They are added to the story of the cloud of witnesses that surround us.  They are added to the story of redemption and hope and love and mercy.

Listen to that thread of the story.  Listen for it and look for it.  We need that part of the story in order to imagine the new way forward.

As you know, I’m leaving tomorrow for my 12-week sabbatical.  I’ll do some hiking, some reading, some writing, some singing, some running, and some exploring of my family roots in the UK and in Ohio.  It hit me yesterday during Adele’s Memorial Service how much of her story is woven into the fabric of this place and its people.  She lived a redemptive life and sought to share that redemptive passion with all of us.  You are a part of my story now and I now seek to weave a new or renewed portion of my life into the tapestry that is my life and see how we share it in the coming years.

I can’t wait to see what I discover as I look at the places of my family roots.  What story will beg to be heard there?  I promise to listen.

While we’re apart, what will you hear, see, experience?  You’ll see a lot just the same.  The Sunday school will still happen.  The choir will still sing.  The bells will still play.  The stories will continue each Sunday.  The Council will deliberate and finalize a budget proposal.  The Talent Team will recruit officers and ministry team leaders. The annual meeting will happen, as will the Pride Festival and the joint services with First Congregational Church.
But things will be different, too.  You’ll get to spread your wings a bit.  You’ll get to exercise some different muscles.  You’ll hear different preachers and maybe even experience new opportunities for community.  
But through it all, listen for the story of the ancients. The story of redemption and hope.  Cling to it as if your life depended on it.  Because it does.

You have everything you need to make it through whatever life throws at you.  We have seen it here this year as we have experienced great triumph and the deepest sorrow.  And the constant through it all has been the faithfulness of this community that tries to live lives of substance.  And we keep weaving our stories, trusting, trusting, trusting that God has not left us comfortless.  In fact, God has never left us.  God is there in the story.  God is our muse, our guide, our boundary-setter, the Divine trickster who pushes us deeper and calls us to look for the redemption that we need.

It’s an old story.  Joanna knew it.  That’s why she went to the tomb.  She was there to continue the story.  That’s why we’re here too.

So remember the story. Claim the story.  Articulate the story.  Celebrate the story.  And as you do that listen for the ultimate story that leads us truly to be the resurrected people that God seeks out.