“Tell the Story”
Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar
First Congregational Church of East Hartford
October 13, 2018
Christians have been going to jail for a long time.
Whether it’s disobeying the racist lunch counter laws or
physically block the building of a pipeline destructive to the environment or
taking to the streets to advocate for peace,
Christians have a history of challenging the status quo to such a degree that they end up in jail.
It all started shortly after Jesus died.
Early Christians lifted up Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords,
which meant they rejected the emperor Caesar as Lord, divine ruler of all.
What’s more, Christians neglected the cultural practices of the time because many involved the worship of other gods.
This made the first Christians rather unpopular with their Roman neighbors.
Listen to what happened to these Christians for telling the story of Jesus and his love.
Scripture: Acts 8:1b-8
The call to tell the story is part of our DNA,
The religion exists because the disciples couldn’t shut up about their experiences,
yet telling the story is rarely easy or without consequences.
People have been imprisoned, dismissed and ostracized for proclaiming a story counter to the status quo.
BUT, telling the story is the only way to change the world.
You know the 3 traditional ways to change the world:
Directly serve those harmed (feed hungry people),
Change the laws (laws that reduce poverty or create emergency support programs),
And change the culture (people don’t shame those struggling for food)
All three means start with telling a story about the problem and hope to solve it.
Whether you recruit a friend to serve in the food bank, write a postcard to change a law, protest in the street, post on FB, or write a letter to the editor,
It all comes down to having the courage to share your story.
Any change boils down to one person telling a story to another.
Transformation happens when the story is heard.
Oh does our world need some transformation!
Our world is filled with wretched news and painful chaos.
Many have felt especially upset in the last week, as if the world is crashing down and very near to imploding.
It can feel like the world is ending.
Jesus speaks about the end of time, the end of the world as we know it, and he gives us some wisdom.
Whether the world is actually ending or still a ways off, his words hold wisdom. Let’s listen.
Scripture: Matthew 24:6-14
When the world is crashing, and it looks like the end is near:
The NIV (New International Version) translates verse 13 as “the one who stands firm.”
Stand firm and preach the Gospel.
Tell the Story of God’s love.
Tell the Story
Many will actually go forth and talk about the love of the divine, made known to us Christians in Jesus Christ. Bob Wood had such an experience in the hospital and wants to share his story – he will be downstairs in the adult lounge to show his 10 min video and talk to those who would like to hear. While Bob and I have different theologies about he after life, his story is a powerful one.
I have found that Telling the Story does not always require God language.
As the popular hymn proclaims, “I sing the new, new song, ‘twill be the old, old story.”
The idea is that the language and the detail and context of the story will change through time,
but the core story is the same:
We are worthy and loved beings.
God made us and called us good, redeems us and continually offers us new life.
We are loved. You are loved! (Turn to a neighbor and say, “ you are loved!”)
Often our world proclaims we are less than, worthless, unlovable.
One way to tell the story of God’s love is to counter those negative messages with stories of pride and survival.
The world may say you are less than, so tell the story of who you are with pride and strength.
The world may say you are unworthy of respect, so tell the story of how you respect yourself enough to survive.
When we can tell the story of pride in the midst of condemning shame
Or the story of resurrection after being beaten down,
We are proclaiming “we are loved!” and the world is shaken, forcing a new world comes into being.
Two examples of the power stories have to change the world:
Who here is familiar with National Coming Out Day?
National Coming Out Day was this past Thursday –
so my Facebook feed was filled with friends “coming out” about their sexual orientations:
gay, lesbian, bisexual, gender non-conforming, asexual, polyamous, and the like.
Some have had positive experiences, some horribly negative.
Some found accepting parents, some were sent to physiologically harmful “conversion therapy”.
National Coming Out Day started in 1987 to celebrate gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
It takes place on October 11 – the date of the second national march for GLBT rights in DC.
The idea is for people to “come out” and share their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The hope is that the more people who come out, the more visible the population becomes.
Individuals feel stronger and not so alone.
People are the margins become visible instead of hidden away in a closet.
National Coming Out Day is essentially a call for GLBT people to share their story
And assert with pride the beautiful person God has made.
Since the first National Coming Out Day our country has seen a powerful shift in our culture:
Gay, lesbian and bisexual people are far more accepted than ever before – we see as much in our country’s laws:
The military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has been repealed
Marriage equality was fought for and won across the nation.
The Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 allows the justice department to investigate possible hate crimes.
There is much more to be done.
Same-gender couples are still often treated as mere friends instead of respected as a married couple.
Slurs and shame still arise on playgrounds.
However, as more and more people “come out” and share their story,
the culture is shifting in miraculous ways.
This past year we have witnessed yet another cultural movement brought on by the profound power of telling the story.
Last October dozens of women came forward with painful stories of sexual harm done by Harvey Weinstein.
On October 15, 2017 one actress, Alyssa Milano, suggested that anyone who had been “sexually harassed or assaulted” should reply to her tweet with “#MeToo”.
Half a million people responded in the first 24 hours.
Since then many high profile men have been accused of inflicting sexual harm.
In the last year we have seen a significant increase in women and men sharing their stories about sexual harassment and assault as part of the “Me Too” movement.
What has happened because of theses courageous women and men telling their stories?
- Survivors are seeking support in record numbers, as hotlines and support centers experience great increases in people reaching out to them.
- HR departments report a greater number of reports, while many are resolved internally, the number that went to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission increased by 12 % in the last year. (NBC News “New Data on #MeToo’s first year shows “undeniable” impact”)
- More than 300 actresses, writers, and directors raised $21 million dollars for legal assistance for people who suffer harassment, abuse or assault at work. This “Time’s Up” initiative has over 500 attorneys on hand and over 2,700 requests.
The belittling and hatred thrown at Dr. Ford for telling her story of sexual harm has left many women and men discouraged.
But as more and more people come forward to share their stories, the culture is shifting.
We have already seen change in the last year.
The silence is broken.
Many men and women, who never thought much about sexual assault or harassment before
are taking a closer look at what consent and respect really looks like.
Stories have the power to change the world.
Stories connect us and build us up – especially those of us on the margins in some way.
So whether it is your story of coming out or your story of harm or your story of immigration,
Or even your story of joy, or following your dreams, or finding a loving community,
Tell your story.
Not everyone will hear you – some will dismiss you or reject you.
So give yourself time and start by sharing with one you trust and know will be supportive.
There are times when telling your story publicly can threaten physical and emotional harm.
In such situations the telling of your story does not need to be public.
In fact, telling your story to God in prayer may be the wisest and most powerful act.
If you are unsure, I would be honored to help you discern when, where and how to tell your story.
When it becomes time to tell your story, own it and use “I” statements.
Let the telling of your story be an act of empowerment.
Some will not relate nor understand,
But others will.
It is our stories shared together that has great power to change the world.
The early Christians suffered great persecution,
But their story of Christ shook the foundations of the world, reordered time and restructured society.
The story of God’s great love for us –
the story of pride in God’s beautiful creation,
The story of survival through degradation,
Are holy stories that transform the world.
Stories have the power to change the world.
So when it looks like the world is going to implode with hate,
Stand firm and tell the story.
Speak it to your friends and family.
Post it online or write it in the paper.
Share it with your elected officials and let it inform our public policies.
If it is not time to be a public story, tell it to God in prayer, that you might gather strength from the Divine’s holy love.
Whatever way you do so,
Tell the story. Amen.
Citations and Research
Information about Coming Out Day from www.hrc.org Link to article: https://www.hrc.org/resources/national-coming-out-day?fbclid=IwAR1hd4LOycfLSuT21KAFRQ8m85BovZgHUu51SDFNTzHyJIPMARDTYIoEfo8
Information about #MeToo primarily from www.bbc.com “What has #MeToo actually changed?” and verified against NBC and New York Times articles with similar content. Link to article: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-44045291?fbclid=IwAR1PF_oLQSBKc_CAJkWFYmERFukVnWvlYMu_nHsjCSdhsdrdXk6aAmjHc_A
Christians going to jail inspired by Sojourners’ article “Why we go to Jail” by Shane Claiborne and New Testament course work at Yale Divinity School. Link to article: https://sojo.net/magazine/april-2018/why-we-go-jail