The Big Story

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

Romans 10:12-13

Of course, each of us has a different story about how we got here.

Each of us has taken a distinctive, one of a kind zigzag path to be in this place this morning.

My own path here was quite circuitous and roundabout—and like most of our stories, my story is full of perplexity, amazement, doubt, awakenings, and comical missteps—certainly my first brush with the Episcopal Church was anything but promising.

As an 18 year old just out of high school and in need of a summer job, I signed on as custodian at the local Episcopal church mainly because my girl friend lived right over the hill.

It didn’t take long for the rector to realize the nature of my priorities—one day the Rev. Mr. Hill told me that he noticed I seemed to be constantly taking breaks and leaving the premises, that he’d deliberately left several piles of dust balls in the parish hall to see how long it would take for me to get to them, and when they were still there after two weeks, he’d decided he no longer needed my services.

As I said, my getting from there to here has involved many twists and turns.

Each of our stories about how we arrived here features various critical incidents—certain influences, certain meetings, certain conversations, certain telling incidents, certain surprises—that nudged or propelled us in one direction rather than another and eventually led us here.

And it is impossible to grasp someone’s story without appreciating these critical incidents, these unexpected events that lured us in a certain direction, that more than once caused us to change course, that down through the years have shaped and reshaped our understanding of God and faith, sin and redemption.

Of course, our stories may be strikingly similar in some respects—but the particulars, the specifics, the concrete details, of each of our stories, the intricacies of our experience, what we have enjoyed, what we have suffered, what we have celebrated, what we have endured, are remarkably, profoundly different from everyone else’s.

When we come together, we may look on the surface like a rather homogeneous group in lockstep, but the reality is we embody all these differences in personal history, family background, economic status, political convictions, social tastes, liturgical preferences, ways of believing.

And differences of this magnitude mean significant tensions, however unexpressed these might be.

It’s been said that one of the glories of Anglicanism is that our tradition blesses difference.

But as we survey the current splintering in the Anglican Communion, we have to conclude that this tradition is under siege.

And the notion that differences can coexist under one roof is not exactly flourishing in our state and national legislatures.

Well, to bring it on home, let us ask ourselves, “How much difference can you and I not only tolerate but bless?”

Apparently not very much.

When T.S. Eliot wrote, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality,” he might well have added, “Humankind cannot bear very much difference.”

Each of us, it seems, is captive to the boundaries, horizons, and limitations of our own story—those whose stories are markedly different from ours often seem alien, strange, and unapproachable.

Enter the Gospel story.

The Gospel story is a Big Story, a story that is big and vast enough to include and encompass all our stories and all our differences.

The Big Story is bigger than my story or your story.

This Big Story comprehends, envelops, and embraces all our stories.

All our stories fit within the spacious domain of this Big Story.

The Big Story is about how we are all maintained in our aliveness from moment to moment by the energy and vitality of God the source of all life—in the words of Hymn 423, “To all life thou givest, to both great and small; in all life thou livest, the true life of all….”

The Big Story is about how difference is God’s way of making things interesting—how difference is a mark of God’s ingenuity.

This Big Gospel Story is about all the ways we get lost and then are found, not just once but over and over.

This Big Story is about all the ways we are blind and then see, not just once but again and again.

The Big Story is about how we’re all in the same boat, how we repeatedly get stranded in some wilderness or other, and then how suddenly a path opens up.

The Big Story is about all those moments when, in our hour of need, kindness and mercy have suddenly appeared, quelled our anxiety, and relieved and restored us.

The Big Story is about all those little moments when grace abounds, when our nearly empty cup has suddenly been filled to overflowing.

The Irish writer Colum McCann remembers the time when he was 9 and he and his father traveled from Dublin to London to visit his ailing grandfather in a nursing home.

After they had said goodbye to his grandfather, they went to a Hard Rock Café for a hamburger—when the waitress, who turned out to be Irish, found out why they had come to London, she reached out and gently touched the boy’s cheek and then brought him an ice cream sundae.

Mr. McCann, who’s now 44, said “I know, for a fact, that if she’s still around, she would not remember that. But every single time I touch down in London, I can feel that woman’s presence, and also her generosity. So this tiny little moment affected me in all sorts of extraordinary ways.”

Yes, the Big Story is about how the simplest gesture of generosity can reach across all our differences and reverberate for a life time.

The Big Story is about how the smallest act of kindness is monumentally important, cosmically significant, and transcends all differences.

The Rev. Robert Dwight
Lent 1
Christ Episcopal Church
Dayton, OH
2/21/10

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