Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Listen Up, I Got a Story to Tell... (My Senior Sermon)

Sermon Title: Listen Up I’ve Got a Story to Tell

Text: (Matthew 9:27-31)

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’ 28When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ 29Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you.’ 30And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, ‘See that no one knows of this.’ 31But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.

This is my story; this is my song. This is my story; this is my song. Fannie Crosby got it right, we are people with a story to tell. At night, after tucking our children into bed we tell them bedtime stories. On the nightly news, we get today’s top stories. Rev. Clay Evans said, “when I look back over my life, and I think things over, I can truly say that I been blessed, I have a testimony.” In other words, he has a story to tell. Most of you in this room can recall that in Christian Education we read Anne Wimberly’s “Soul Stories…” which helps us to see our stories alongside the stories of faithful, both in the biblical text and in recent history. The rapper Slick Rick—known as one of the greatest storytellers in hip-hop history—puts it this way, “Now here’s a little something that needs to be heard…” The hymn writer said, “I love to tell the story! ‘Twill be my theme in glory. To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love…” The Notorious B.I.G. said it like this, “Listen up, I got a story to tell…”

The Notorious B.I.G wasn’t the only one with a story to tell. The telling of one’s story is an ancient tradition. Let us look at today’s text found in the Gospel according to Matthew 9:27-31.

Jesus was in the midst of performing miracles where those on the fringes, those whose bodily conditions had caused them to be outsiders, were restored to health and restored to rightful place in society: a dead girl was raised; a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years was given a healing touch; a mute man was made to talk; and, in our text for the morning, sight was restored to two blind men.

In our text, Jesus was on the move. We do not know where Jesus was going, but what we do know is that two men who were blind were following him as he went on his way. Don’t miss this: blind men following Jesus. How many of us, in the text and today, have our sight and still don’t follow after Jesus as these two men did. They were blind. We do not know the history of these men. Had they been blind from birth? Was there some kind of freak accident that caused their blindness? All we know is that they could not see. Because they could not see, they were positioned as outcasts in their society. We don’t know their occupation or how they provided for themselves, but more than likely they were beggars relying on the handouts of others. Their blindness, perhaps like Bartimeaus, would have kept them from holding a position of dignity and making a decent living. Blind. In many ways, their blindness rendered them invisible to those around them. They could not see, nor were they seen. But, as we gather from the text, they had no problem being heard.

These two blind men followed Jesus shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” They raised their voices, in faith, knowing that Jesus could restore their sight. They raised their voices loud enough to get the attention of Jesus. And so, Jesus engages them[1], asks them if they believe if he can do this—though the “this” has not been explicitly stated. And, in faith, they respond “yes.” Do you believe I can do this? Yes. And so, Jesus touched their eyes and restored their sight. Friends, there is something wonderful about being touched by Jesus.

This touch was so wonderful that the men whose sight was restored spread the news about Jesus. Despite Jesus’ stern warning not to tell anyone about what had happened, they could not keep this experience to themselves. Perhaps, like the prophet Jeremiah, it was like fire shut up in their bones. Or perhaps, like the Notorious B.I.G. they said, “Listen up, I got a story to tell.” And so, they told the story. They did not stay put and tell the story; they traveled, went from place to place, around the area telling the story. I know that the text does not say that they told their own story. They text says that they spread the news about him—Jesus—around the district. Yes, that is true. But, one of the things I’ve gleaned under Dr. Simpson’s teaching is that our preaching is part proclamation of the Gospel and part testimony. Our testimony points to the particular ways in which the Gospel has been real in our lives.

In spreading the news about Jesus they had to tell their own story—how they had been blind, outcast from society, not able to see the beauty in life, kept from making a decent living, relegated to living life without dignity. In spreading the news about Jesus they had to tell their own story—how they had been in the right place at the right time, how they had to be courageous and tenacious and downright loud to get the attention of Jesus. In spreading the news about Jesus they had to tell their own story—how they believed in Jesus’ ability to do a new thing, a radical thing, to move them from blindness to seeing, to restore their sight and in turn to restore their ability to be seen by others who were not physically blind but were blind to their person. In spreading the news about Jesus they had to tell their own story—how their eyes were opened. In other words, when we tell our stories, we point to the presence and activity of God in our lives.

As Christians, we are people who find meaning and identity and hope in a particular metanarrative—the Christ story. We are also people with stories of our own that intertwine with one another’s. We are people that, like those two formerly blind men, have the Christ event all up and through our stories. We are people whose stories point to a loving, merciful, healing, and redemptive God who is ever present and ever active. We are people with a story to tell so that God’s presence and work may be known. Dr. Davis noted in Church History last week, “we are in control of how the story gets told, they are our narratives to tell.” Telling the story, our stories, can be generative, but it can also be painful. Some parts of our stories are difficult to rehearse. For the two men in our text, it may have been painful to speak about their years spent unable to see. For me, as you will see, it is often painful to speak about my years spent washed over by the blues. And yet, we tell our stories because there is yet hope in our stories.

I’ve been handling words--and lots of them--for three years now, and so, the remainder of this sermon is my testimony, my living out of this text, in the best way that I know how. My guiding question for this work is, "what would it mean to consider human life, in general, and African-American female life, in particular, sacred text?" Friends, listen up, I got a story to tell…

[1] On a side note, I am interested in the clandestine nature of this restoration. Jesus doesn’t restore their sight on the road, but rather when they come into the house. Jesus also warns them to be quiet about the whole incident.

*Altar created by Donna Olivia Powell

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