Telling Stories

Hear what the LORD says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”

“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:1-8; lectionary text for Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020

Our larger family gathered mid-January this year, a delayed Christmas reunion.  The house grew full of bodies and of voices and the good smell of food.  We talked and calculated and realized with some surprise that it had been a few years since all five grown siblings had been in the same place at the same time.  We shared news of job changes, house moves, graduations, school and sport accomplishments.  And then — almost as if that catch-up was but ground-clearing — as ever we do, we found ourselves telling the stories that we always tell, stories of hilarious catastrophe, not forgetting the one that culminates with one sibling saying ‘Superba by Hobart!’ while another laughs herself to tears. It’s as if those old stories are some necessary touchstone.   We need to retell them to renew ourselves in relationship.  So that we can tell new stories to each other, together.

Stories.  Accounts.  Narratives.  Words strung together into meaning.  I’ve been thinking again how much they matter.  I try to tell one person about another and I can offer lists of adjectives — ‘She is this … or this other’ — but it’s the story I can tell about an experience shared that tells so much more.  The mother of one of my friends was someone profoundly interested in other people and their stories.  When introducing one person to the other, she offered each acquaintance to the other as if offering a treasure, something precious and profound — trusting that each would be enriched by knowing the other, by learning something of their story.  

And so I come back to this Micah text.  It starts with a dispute form — a call to rise and plead your case, a call to creation to hear the LORD’s controversy.  It ends with the beautifully simple summons to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly.  And it pivots on the evocation of story retold and people reminded.  Reread those middle verses:  ‘I brought you up from the land of Egypt … I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.’  Remember Balak and Balaam, from Shittim to Gilgal… This is not a list of the LORD’s actions, a drumbeat of debts accrued by Israel.  This is a litany of remembrance.  Remember the story of Exodus?  Remember how Moses and Aaron confronted Pharaoh?  Remember how Miriam led the people in song?  Remember how Balak tried to have God’s people cursed and Balaam refused?  Remember how God invited the people to be ‘for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation’?  Remember, remember, remember.  

This is a treasure,  precious and profound.  Remember the stories.  They are where the text turns.  We cannot get from dispute and controversy to renewed commitment without going through the stories because the stories are how we learn and relearn ourselves in relationship.  So that we can tell new stories, to each other, with the LORD.

This is a treasure.  Picture it so:  the LORD’s arms outstretched and cupped in God’s hands, held with infinite care and offered with generous grace, all the stories of God in relationship with God’s people. We are enriched by these stories. We are brought into ourselves. Doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God.

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