What is Your Favorite Bible Story?

Dear Caroline,

When I decided to answer your question first, it was because I thought it would be easier than the others. It turns out to be one of the most difficult. There are so many Bible stories I love, it is hard to pick just one as a favorite. But I’m going to try.

My favorite Bible stories all have the same message. I know you have been coming to church all your life, so I bet you have sung this song a lot:

Jesus loves me,
This I know,
For the Bible tells me so.

The Bible is where I first read about how much God loves me, and some of my favorite stories are about that love, and all the things God has done to show love for the world.

God loves the world, so God called Abraham and Sarah, who were too old to have children, and tells them they will have more children than the grains of sand on the beach or the stars in the sky. When Sarah hears it, she laughs. I think she laughed because it was too wonderful for her to imagine God could love her that much. Could God’s love be that great, as great as the stars? She did have a son, and they named him Isaac, which means, “Son of Laughter.”

I love that story. But it is not my favorite.

God loves the world, so when the people ask for a king, God sends the prophet Samuel to Jesse’s house to find the king in the tiny town of Bethlehem, out in the country. Jesse had eight sons, and God told Samuel one of those sons would be the king. So each one of them comes and stands in front of Samuel, and each time Samuel thinks,”This is the one.” But God keeps saying to Samuel, “Don’t pay attention to what they look like on the outside, how big and strong they are. People may look at that sort of thing, but I look at a person’s heart.” Seven sons stand in front of Samuel, and God picks none of them. When Samuel asks where the eighth son is, Jesse has to send for him in the fields, tending the sheep. “This is the one,” says God, and that little boy David would be the greatest king of all.

I love that story. But it is not my favorite.

God loves the world, so on a dark night in that same little town of Bethlehem a baby was born to a little girl named Mary. Shepherds came to visit him, and angels sang peace on earth, and Jesus shared his room with cows and donkeys and sheep. Imagine that! God came to be with us.

I love that story. But it is not my favorite.

Caroline, before i tell you my favorite story, I want you to remember the best meal you ever had. Who was with you? What did you eat? What did you talk about?

For me, one of the best meals I ever ate happened last summer. I went to a restaurant in San Francisco that serves food from Peru. Kim, Caleb, and Chandler were there, two of my brothers, Rory and Jonathan, our friend Caesar, and your dad. We talked about everything – the half marathon race we finished that morning, our families, the food we were eating, the problems in the world, all the ideas we had for helping the world, our dreams for the future – on and on we talked and ate. The whole meal took two hours. We laughed and laughed, we discussed serious things and funny things. Your dad talked about how much he loves you and your sister, how proud he was of both of you.

As we were leaving, I had a feeling that we were not alone. I think Jesus was there at that table with us, in the joy and love we were sharing with one another. I think he is always with us at table. Sometimes we see him more clearly than others.

When Jesus died on the cross, his friends were sad, and they thought they would never see him again, that all his teachings would die with him. Two of his friends were walking back to their home in a town called Emmaus. They were so sad they hardly noticed when a stranger came walking alongside them. They began talking with one another, and the stranger starts telling Bible stories. Maybe he told them about old Abraham and Sarah and their Son of Laughter. Or perhaps he talked about David, the little boy who became a mighty king. The way he talks about God’s love is so comforting, they ask him to stay the night. And when they sit down at the table for supper, the stranger takes the bread, says a blessing, and breaks it. An amazing thing happens right then – they recognize that the stranger is Jesus, and he disappears.

That is my favorite Bible story. I love it because it reminds me that every time we eat the bread and drink from the cup together – whether it is in church during the Lord’s Supper, or in our homes with our families, or in a Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco – Jesus is there. He is there because he loves us. And he wants us to love one another.

After that favorite meal in San Francisco, my love for my family and friends was stronger. And every time we eat the meal at church, which is also one of my favorites, my love for all the people in the church is stronger. Loving God and loving one another is the most important thing we can ever do, Caroline, and that’s why this story of love is my favorite.

What is your favorite Bible story? I would love to hear it, not just from you, but from everyone listening in to this letter.

May you know God’s supporting love, not only at the table, but everywhere you go.

Peace,
Pastor Chris

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Childrens Questions for a Pastor

As part of the First Grade Sunday church school class at First Presbyterian, the children were invited to ask me any question they had about faith. I plan to try and answer those questions in the next several blogs during Lent.

Someone recently commented to me that she loved watching the children come forward for what we call “The Time with the Young Church.” She said the way they make their way up, sit around the baptismal font, not afraid to ask questions or share their own thoughts, says to her that they feel at home in the space, that this church is an extension of their families. I think she is right, and I would take it one step further – this church is their family. In every way, they are being formed in faith by a community that takes seriously the baptismal vows we all make each time a person passes through these waters.

I read a blog the other day that asked the question, “Why are young people leaving the church in young adulthood, after they leave for college?” One of the reasons he gave was that the church was not, in many cases, taking children and youth seriously. The church often, says the writer, cordons the children and youth off in another part of the church building, entertaining them with big programs, conducting separate worship experiences, and, worst of all, talking down to them. The author suggests that children and youth are capable of understanding much more than we think, and they are hungry for the depths of the faith. When they go off to college or enter the world of work and the complexities of life in the 21st century, they often discover they were well entertained in church, but not formed in faith. It makes it easy for them to walk away.

Wen I read things like this, I am grateful. I am grateful to be part of a community of faith that deeply values intergenerational worship and learning, that routinely places persons of all ages together in the same room, in meaningful relationships, taking seriously the contributions of all. I am also grateful to be in a church that values the faith questions all of us bring, and is not so quick to provide pat answers. In a culture – and especially a church culture – that is quick to provide certitude, and encourages persons to line up on competing sides of all kinds of issues, I am thankful to be in a place that lifts up the virtue of humility, opening a wide space for the mutual sharing of ideas.

I am reminded of the nature of this community every Ash Wednesday. Last night, I placed the ashes on the foreheads of two year olds and eighty-two years olds, some held tightly by their parents, some pushed in wheelchairs by their children. I placed the ashen cross on my daughter, my wife, and my mother as well. All of us received the same ashes. All of us heard the same words: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us – one human family, equal in our need for God’s renewing grace. This simple reality is why we value the questions, and the ones who ask them, even – especially – the little ones.

It is challenging to be a pastor in such a place, to be attentive to the questions, and to take seriously all who pose them, regardless of their age or life experience. So I am glad to have the chance to hear some of the questions from our first graders, and I invite you in the next few blogs to listen in as I try to respond, and perhaps share your own insights. After all, it is as we respond together in community that the full depth of both our questions and the answers we bring is revealed.

I wish you a holy Lent. Be bold in your questions. Be humble in your answers. Be assured of your acceptance.