So…the lectionary is leaving out the good bits again…
I read the Gospel set for last Sunday so I could think about what I should say about it, and it told me to read Matthew chapter 13 verses 1-9… and then I should ignore the next bit and start again and read verses 18 – 23.
Hmmm. Call me awkward, but I always want to know what’s not being said.
The verses I was told to read were the Parable of the Sower, and the explanation of the parable that follows it (if you don’t know it, you can Google it). It’s a story I know well. Jesus is talking about the different ways people might respond to his teaching – he is asking us to think seriously about how we respond to God’s call on our lives, and he is promising that those who respond to it by putting it into practice and living faithfully by it, will experience life in all its fullness and help others to know that life too. It is talking, too, I think, about the extraordinary indiscrimination of God’s love. The seed gets scattered absolutely everywhere – it is no longer only for one kind of person – all are given the opportunity to respond to God’s love.
I can see why they missed out the verses in the middle, because they are basically an interruption by the disciples. But the bits that were left out spoke to me more personally than the bits I was supposed to read.
Because in these verses, Jesus’ disciples turn to him and say, “Why are you always telling stories to people?” and Jesus responds by explaining that often people don’t understand, so he resorts to telling them stories to explain things instead.
And he’s right. The Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin and the Sower and the Wedding Feast and the Workers in the Vineyard and the Pearl of Great Price…stories explain to us, much better than any rational argument can, what God is actually like.
Stories are powerful. Stories are who we are.
The power of stories is why at the recent General Synod of the Church of England last weekend, amongst the theological debates, many personal stories were told.
You might have heard (but you might not, because good news travels slowly), that the C of E has just voted to ban conversion therapy for LGB people and to call on the government to do the same. It’s also just voted to look into providing a recognised liturgy for transgender people to celebrate and affirm their identity.
The motions were carried overwhelmingly. And one of the reasons, I think, is because an awful lot of courageous people stood up and told their stories – some of them were appalling stories of self-harm and attempted suicide, and some of them were stories of people who had found inclusion and welcome.
My family is a family for whom LGBTQ+ is part of our story, and I watched the debates with both anxiety and hope. The Church has often been completely rubbish on these matters, but this July, it has felt as if things have begun to change.
As my transgender atheist daughter said (in her one word FB message in response to the debate):
Stories helped this Synod to have a better debate. They helped make it a kinder discussion. Personal stories also made it a much more genuinely theological discussion.
Because Christianity is supposed to be an embodied religion. God so loved the world that he became part of it, as a real human being, with a real physical and emotional life. When he went back to heaven he told us that we are his body now. At its very core, Christianity is about the reality of life, here and now in the physical world. It is about God meeting us in the middle of all our vulnerabilities. It is about recognising God’s Spirit in one another and sharing love in real practical ways, and engaging with God and with one another in the continually retelling and reliving of that great overarching story of creation, salvation and redemption.
In other words, it’s the story of real life. If we can remember that, there’s hope for the Church.