This has been a weekend steeped in stories.
Saturday night Ginger and I participated in the Inaugural Triangle Red Sox Nation Whiffle Ball Homerun Derby, which was a fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund, one of the Red Sox primary charities. I took my swings, hit four homers, won two pounds of coffee at the bean bag toss, enjoyed the burgers, dogs, and beer, and listened to different folks tell their Sox stories. One guy remembered the day in his childhood when he and his dad helped Ted Williams change a flat on a back road here in North Carolina, and, he said, “I’ve been a Sox fan ever since.”
Part of the evening was an auction of Red Sox memorabilia –even Sox-Yankees tickets – and one of the items was a framed copy of a photograph of Carlton Fisk trying to coax the ball he had just hit into fair territory during Game Six of the 1975 World Series. His homerun won the game, caused a Game Seven, and, as Sean, our state governor for Red Sox Nation said, “created the greatest moment for Sox fans until 2004.” Of the more than a hundred people gathered, most all of us knew the story, though only a small minority were older than thirty-five.
They knew the story because it had been passed on as one of the tales that bind. You didn’t have to be there to know the elation of the moment any more than you had to have seen Game Seven to have your heart broken. Again.
On the drive home it wasn’t hard to make the jump from the Sox stories to sermon stories, since this morning’s passages talked about Moses and the “great cloud of witnesses” calling us on in Hebrews 12:1-2. Those verses have captured me since I was a kid because of that exact phrase: a great cloud of witnesses – everyone in heaven in the stands pulling for us. I was in high school, I guess, the first time I heard Bill Gaither’s “The King is Coming” (yes, I know somehow I seem to manage finding a Gaither Vocal Band video), and have often wondered if the verses from Hebrews were behind the lyric,
regal robes are now unfolding
heaven’s grandstands all in place
heaven’s choir is now assembled
start to sing amazing grace
Our first spring in Boston, we made our way down Boylston Street to the finish line the day before the Boston Marathon and saw the grandstands all in place, waiting for a fan front to blow in and the clouds to gather to cheer on those who made it home from Hopkinton. Though I am not, nor have I ever been a runner, I understand the fuel for both survival and solidarity is found in story. Even in the midst of the running metaphor, we are reminded Jesus is the author of our faith: THE storyteller.
Our opening hymn this morning was a tune I knew (“Lead on, O King Eternal”) and a lyric I did not: “Lead on, O Cloud of Presence.” I failed to write down the writer and composer’s names, but here is their excellent text:
lead on, o cloud of presence, the exodus is come
in wilderness and desert our tribe shall make its home
our slavery left behind us, new hopes within us grow
we seek the land of promise where milk and honey flow
lead on, o fiery pillar, we follow yet with fears
but we shall come rejoicing though joy be born of tears
we are not lost, though wandering, for by your light we come
and we are still God’s people, the journey is our home
lead on O God of freedom, and guide us on our way
and help us trust the promise through struggle and delay
we pray our sons and daughters may journey to that land
where justice dwells with mercy, and love is law’s demand
I’m a couple of days away from inviting my students to dive into some of my favorite stories with me to see what we can find. What I want to have happen is for Holden Caulfield and Stephen Kumalo to come alive for them, and for me. We, as readers and storytellers have the power to raise the dead. As I think listening again to Moses’ story, I realize that part of what happens in our telling and retelling is we breathe new life into those dry bones, if you will: we become the cloud of witnesses as we watch Moses and Miriam and Mary run the race that was set before them. When we tell their stories, we remember the circle is unbroken, both now and by and by.
One of the John Denver songs that helped me learn to play guitar says
I listened to what the good book said and it made good sense to me
talking ‘bout reaping what you’re sowing people trying to be free
now we’ve got new names and faces this time around
gospel changes, Lord, still going down
Let us keep telling the stories; blessed be the tales that bind.