Pentecost 23B, 2000
A Liturgy is also available
IN THE BIRTH PANGS THERE IS HOPE...
Today is the last week we will hear a gospel story from the storyteller Mark.
Next week is the end of this liturgical year.
And we are about to enter the Season of Advent.
But what makes this week so interesting is
it contains loud echoes of what many scholars reckon,
Mark saw was at the heart and soul of his message.
For Mark, according to those scholars, the heart and soul...
is the parable of The Sower (Mark 4).
Remember the story... some seeds fall on a hard pathway
some seeds fall on rocky ground
some seeds fall among thorns and are choked
some seed fall on good soil.
As we have journeyed together through Mark this year
we have heard this story in the various and many other stories...
The rich young man
The healing of a man with an unclean spirit
The woman with the alabaster jar of ointment
The disciples in the boat
The widow’s mite
And many, many more.
In these stories people have heard... but only some have responded.
For some the words have fallen on a hard pathway,
on rocky ground,
All through Mark is this theological vision of
sown seed and productive and unproductive earth.
Once again we encounter it in the story
on the last day when a story will be told by Mark.
The parable of The Sower promises that harvest and new birth
will spring forth from the work of the sower.
And this same kind of hope is present in today’s story.
There will be great trials and tribulation
but in the end there will be harvest and new birth.
Sow the seed!
That’s what we do in the midst of the birth pangs.
God will give the growth.
And as I read and reflected on today’s gospel story,
and its echoes from the parable of The Sower,
I remembered a story New Testament scholar and storyteller
Tom Boomershine tells in his book Story journey.
The reason why I remember this story so well is that
while I was attending a religious communication conference in Nashville, Tennessee in 1990,
I had a so-called typical 'American working breakfast'
with two people who were working with 'story' in church situations.
One was an educator and storyteller, Mike Williams.
The other, a seminary lecturer whose wife, Louise Mahan, was,
as it turns out, the minister mentioned in Boomershine's story.
Louise had attended a biblical storytelling workshop in 1985.
Two years prior to this she had become parish minister
of a congregation which had suffered
the loss of their church in a fire.
For two years they had been fighting
and arguing with the insurance company.
With every small victory seemed to come two other defeats.
“By the end of the second year, we were all discouraged,” she said.
“The burned out hulk still stood, the insurance settlement was woefully inadequate, we were meeting in a church building where we were only tolerated on Sunday afternoons – the litany of woes could go on and on.”
During the workshop the group told the parable of The Sower.
Commenting on the parable she says she had always disliked the parable -
because she had always thought of herself as the 'dirt'.
“But as I learned it and told it and heard it told, it suddenly came to me that I was not dirt, but the sower, and that my congregation was filled with sowers.”
With great excitement she returned to her congregation
and on the first Sunday following the workshop,
while they worshipped on the lawn,
she told the congregation the parable of The Sower.
“They were immediately engaged by the telling instead of the reading. Then I asked them to line it back to me. They looked at me strangely... (but) they lined it back to me, twice.
Then she preached on the parable and about being sowers rather than dirt
“...and that we had been sowing seeds for two years and most had fallen on packed down soil or rocky soil or among thorns, but that some had fallen on good soil and we had seen some results of that and we would see more results in the future.
“We were all encouraged, lifted up, by the story. We used it over and over. It became our story. We used it in worship, on a big banner, at meetings. Every time we got bad news (which was often) someone would tell the story.”
She went on:
“We don't need the story much anymore. Our building is going up...
We'll need a new story for the new people of God that we will be. But I know that without the parable of the sower Broadway United Methodist Church, Chicago would have disappeared. The story saved us and gave us new life. Thanks be to God!”
An 'imaginative' story...
A story about hope in the midst of the birth pangs...
which opened up new possibilities for a congregation...
For our congregation?
The stories of God, when told faithfully out of a commitment
to understand and internalise them deeply,
have their own power and life.
The stories are like the seeds of Jesus’ parables.
They grow in their own time and in their own way.
But they bear fruit far beyond anything one would expect.
That’s why Jesus told stories, like the one we heard today.
Boomershine, T. E. 1988. Story journey. An invitation to the gospel as storytelling. TN: Nashville. Abingdon Press.