First Presbyterian Church

of Hemet
May 6, 2018 
Acts 8:26-40; John 15:1-8 
Everybody loves a good story. That’s what makes for good books or movies or sports. We want a story, that’s believable, that’s moving, that lifts us to a higher plane than the one we usually live on.  
One of the better parts of life is telling stories. Most of them are true, and are about ourselves. We are story makers and story tellers. Anthony de Mello, the South Asian Jesuit and mystic said once, ““You have to understand, my dears, that the shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story.” We use stories to make sense of our lives.
It’s no different in the church. Every church has a story. It begins with the story of Jesus, who a few people pick up, and they decide to gather to tell that story over and over again, in all its simplicity and complexity. And they adapt that story for whether they’re talking to kids, young adults, middle or older adults. I believe the church tried to give expression to that story in the Apostle’s Creed which I hope you’ll try to say in a little bit and was developed by trial and error between the 2nd and the 9th century of the Christian era.
The deacon Philip found himself telling a story to a high court official. The official was both a rich man—he could afford a chariot, could afford and read a scroll with the prophet Isaiah on it, and could travel from the southern Nile River valley to Jerusalem—and the man was an outsider. The official, identified as a eunuch, had been presumably castrated so he could serve in the empress’ service and not be accused of being part of her family. In ancient Israel the eunuch was looked down upon as separated—well, a freak. The court official encountered deacon Philip on the desert road. The official was reading from the prophet Isaiah and was genuinely baffled about who the prophet was talking about. So Philip told him a story. Philip began with the passage the official was reading and then told the official what the writer calls “the good news about Jesus.” The story was about Jesus who by that time had lived not long ago and no doubt about that man’s life, and had been baptized, done miracles, been crucified, resurrected and ascended to heaven.
The court official must have known about baptism as the symbol of crossing over from one reality to another because when Philip and the court official came upon water the court official asked the question “what can stand in the way of my being baptized?” That wasn’t a very Presbyterian question. Because a Presbyterian would have said “let’s go get the Session” or “what’s the body of believers you’re being baptized into?” or “shouldn’t there be a class before you take the step of being baptized?” But Philip ignored all those questions and did what love required, he baptized the court official on the spot. I imagine there were a few witnesses because I doubt a court official would have been travelling alone. But the court official crossed over from curiosity to conviction along a desert road on his way back to his home country.
If the church is going to be the church we need opportunity to tell our stories as we go along like he court official, minding our business. The stories are about how we came to know Jesus, or not, and how we’ve been convinced of a few good things by the word of Scripture or the word of a few good family members and friends. Most of us have stories to tell about God in our lives because we’ve had an influential family member, like our mom or dad or someone, who said, I want you to try this. Or we marry someone who has a particular world view, and so we explore his story telling place, his or her church until it becomes are own. Each of us has a story, and it’s worth hearing those stories before we ask someone to change or make a commitment. I’d like to think that Philip heard the court official’s story before they got down into the waters of baptism.
If you’ll stay for brunch we’re going to be telling stories. There will be sheets at your tables where you can make notes about telling a story from our history about five things: a hero, a cherished moment, a story that says this is what we’re about, the moment you were most proud of us, and a story that says ‘this is when I knew I had found my people.’” We don’t really know each other. But we have stories to tell. It’s all about getting at what’s right, and good and positive about this place before we become clear about what matters most. We could ask these questions one on one, and two by two in your homes, and maybe we will. But I thought we’d try to do it as a group to see if what others share doesn’t spark your own reflection on what’s good and positive and worthy in our life together.
It all begins with a first story. And here it is: somebody loved you enough to bring you into this world. And when you recognized that love you thought maybe I should hang out in a place where others think the same way. They may be young and using their singing gifts to give praise, or they may be our age and stage who have been in a lifelong habit of going to that story telling place. But it all begins with a story. The most important word in that story is “who”, not what. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, make of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who”, and then follows a long recital of what happened to the One who was like one of us. That’s the link—who. Which person or persons has made you see the light of Christ shining in the face of God?
Another way to put it is the God story is the vine. The vine is the place where the nutrients come from that make life possible. You and I are the branches. As we connect our story to God’s we find meaning and purpose for life. If we stay connected to the God story, which is known in the Word, the Bread and the Cup we get strength for making sense of our story. The God story constantly reminded us that out of death and decay comes life.
In a little bit we will be baptizing someone whose story is different from most of us. If you were raised Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian or Roman Catholic you were taken to a font and sprinkled as an infant, toddler or young child. If you were raised Baptist, Pentecostal, Calvary Chapel or what Reformed Christians call free church (meaning free of government influence) you were taken to a tank or water source as a teenager or adult and put under water. Increasingly, many of us come from no Christian tradition. Whether sprinkled or dunked, either way was done with the blessing of God who has made himself known as the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But some of us grew up in homes where our mothers and fathers were from different traditions, or no baptizing tradition and we missed the opportunity to show that we crossed over into a new way of life, the way of life initiated by baptism.
In our tradition, the Reformed and Presbyterian one, the roll of confirmation is essential, because an infant, toddler or child cannot commit themselves to a new way of life until they get what we call human agency—choice and preferences. Some of us cannot remember our baptisms, and we need our families to tell us what it was like. We have to rely on story and pictures.
We go through confirmation class every time we recite the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed. I know we don’t do that very much here. Maybe we’ll do it more. But the idea is that there is one story, the God story, that shapes our own, and its worth telling the God story early and often. What is it about the God story that informs us about our own? It is the story of love which created a world good and abundant. It’s the story of pursuit by creating a people and then giving us the prophets and most significantly sending us a part of God in the one we call the Son. It’s the story of a Spirit who tells us God won’t quit in this life and the next. It’s all a part of the God story which keeps getting written.
It gets written each week at Kimball and Buena Vista and in each of our homes which we go to Sunday afternoon through Sunday morning. God shows up in our creaky classes, circles, studies and services, and around meal times, work times and play times. God shows up over the years and in special moments giving us more stories to tell. I’d encourage you for just a few minutes to believe that as Gerard Manley Hopkins has said  
The world is charged with the grandeur of God

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; 
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil 
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck [God’s] rod? 
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; 
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; 
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil 
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. 
You see, it’s in the ordinary that we find the extraordinary. It’s in the everyday we discover the truly transformative.  
So take a chance, ask each other questions about something in this church’s story that connects you to the holy. It’s worth going about your business, as the Ethiopian court official was going about his. It’s worth seeing who interrupts your journey to tell you the good news. It’s worth it to discover what new thing God has in store for you, and us.