Thursday, September 3, 2015

Stories That Matter

(This post was first written for my church's fall newsletter.) 

The year after I graduated college, I volunteered with my church’s youth group. Sometime around midyear, I was asked to share my testimony with the students. 

At first, I was flattered to have the chance to say something to them, but as I thought about it, I started to worry. What did I really have to share with them? I didn’t have a dramatic conversion story or miracle happen to me. I never had a major crisis of faith or heavens-ripped-open moment. I was born and raised a Lutheran and had always been active in church. In my mind, my testimony was like describing vanilla ice cream.

After some thought, I decided to tell them the story of St. Paul’s conversion in Acts 9. 

More specifically I decided to talk about Ananias. 

For those who don’t remember or never read the story, Paul was hunting and arresting Christians until he was struck blind in a vision from God near Damascus. In the city, God spoke to a Christian named Ananias and asked him to go heal Paul’s sight, like, “Go help that guy who wants to arrest you.” Ananias does and Paul’s heart is changed and he becomes perhaps the greatest evangelist the church has ever known. Meanwhile, Ananias is never heard from again.

After I read the story to my youth group, I told them, “I’ve always thought that real faith stories were like Paul: big and dramatic. They involved turning your life around or a near-death experience or helping hundreds or thousands of people. But I’m none of those things, and neither is Ananias. He was just an ordinary guy who did a good deed, but without Ananias, there would have been no Paul. We aren’t all Paul, but we can all be Ananias, trying to be faithful when called to do small things by God. And those small things are still important.”

After youth group that night, a girl named Julia came up to me and said, “Thank you. You’re my Ananias.” I don’t think that I said or did anything praiseworthy that night, but Julia helped me understand my own message, which was: Ananias’s story matters. And my story matters. And your story matters.

Martin Luther Church is a place of stories. We come together here to hear the stories of Jesus and Paul and Mary and other people in the Bible, and to hear the stories of saints and heroes of the faith, and sing stories in our hymns, but we also need to hear each other’s stories of faith. Stories of triumph and struggle, stories of kindnesses received and given, stories of Jesus showing up unexpectedly for us or near us or through us. Paul himself wrote in Romans 10:17 that “faith comes by hearing” and I can’t help but wonder if he wrote that thinking about himself blindly hearing Ananias’s words of faith on the night his life changed.

This year at Martin Luther, in Christian Formation and elsewhere, we are going to be practicing sharing those stories and listening to them and I want to challenge you to look at your own story anew. How has God shaped it? How is God shaping it now? Whose stories have mattered to you and how might your story matter to someone else?

I still don’t think my faith story is much more than vanilla ice cream, but I’ve learned two things since that youth night years ago: 1) faith grows best out of sincere and deep relationships and 2) sincere relationships grow out of sharing personal stories — even the vanilla, Ananias kind.

In God’s Amazing Grace,

Pastor Ari

“These words are my diary screaming out loud.” -Anna Nalick, “Breathe (2 AM)”

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