Jesus said all these things to the crowds in parables, and he spoke to them only in parables. - Matthew 13:34

Last week, I attended a preaching conference called the “Festival of Homiletics” in Pittsburgh. In addition to the cherished opportunity to sit in a pew and hear sermons preached, I attended workshops and lectures about preaching. One of those workshops was “Telling a Story that Matters.”

The presenter started off with the assertion that not every story we enjoy is, in fact, a story that matters. She gave an example that may sound familiar to you: a movie begins with a Woman, about thirty, in a fast-paced business environment in the Big City she moved to in order to jump-start her career. Within minutes, her Boss, a crabby, balding man, has sent her to a Small Town, just hours from the Big City. Upon arrival in mid-December (it is always mid-December in this movie), our protagonist sees a charming Small Town, where residents stroll about in matching hat and scarf sets, sipping hot cocoa and planning for Christmas. Of course, there’s always a handsome Man, just a year or two older than the Woman, whose Christmas Tree Farm (or historic Hotel) is facing foreclosure from the very Boss who sent the Woman to the Small Town in the first place. Woman and Man meet, and despite her career prospects back in the Big City, the Woman finds herself longing for a matching hat and scarf set, accompanied by hot cocoa strolls and perhaps even a romantic sledding hill. Inevitably, she rejects the mission the Boss gave her and chooses instead to throw her lot in with the Small Town Man. The residents of the Small Town come together and save the Christmas Tree Farm. As the movie ends, Man and Woman stroll along main street, hot cocoa clasped in matching mittens. Snow begins to fall as the screen fades to the credits.

Now, this is not to say that you cannot enjoy a Hallmark Christmas movie– or other similarly predictable genres (superhero movies, anyone?). It can be rather stress-alleviating to watch a movie that does exactly what you expect. But these movies don’t change anything in our lives, precisely because they are so predictable. They don’t challenge us. They reflect neither the world the way it is nor the way God wants it to be.

In church, in Christian community, we tell different stories.

We tell stories like the parable of the lost sheep, that reminds us that even if ninety-nine sheep remain safe, the one is worth pursuing. We tell stories like the parable of the mustard seed, that teaches us that even something tiny can grow into something immense. We tell stories about death and resurrection, both the story of Jesus Christ and our own connection to it. We tell stories about captives set free, grudges forgiven, sick healed, and hearts made whole. We tell what God has done in the past and what God is doing right now, in our hearts and homes.

These stories matter. They tell us who God is. They tell us who we are. They tell us who God longs for us to be: liberators, forgivers, welcomers. 

Stories that matter rarely come with matching scarf and hat sets, I’m sorry to say. Stories that matter don’t always end “happily ever after.” In fact, they often have no ending at all! Our lives are not a Christmas Special, but a neverending story of God’s relentless love.

It is in actually telling the stories that matter that we see God’s relentless love manifest in our lives and the lives of the people around us. We see how far God has brought us up til now, and we grow in trust that God will be present in the stories yet to be written. We have stories to tell, stories that matter.

Let’s tell them.