March 8, 2020

2020 March8

Second Sunday in Lent - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

Today’s Old Testament reading is an Origin Story. According to dictionary.com, an Origin Story is:

 

a backstory, or established background narrative, that informs the identity and motivations of [a person]

 

Last week’s Old Testament reading was the Origin Story of The Fall, or how humans first came to sin, or why humans are ashamed of their naked bodies, or how man came to rule over women, or the Origin Story of several aspects of human life and relationships. Today’s OT reading is the Origin Story of how the Promised Land became the Promised Land or how we all have a common ancestor. It answers the question: “How did you get the name Father Abraham?” Or “How and when did Israel-Palestine become such an important location?”

 

Origin Stories are important.
They bring into a relationship
essential details that strengthen
bonds of affection between
persons and helps one
understand who the other is.

 

And as I read more about Origin Stories, and thought about their value, I realized that Origin Stories can have different points of origin. I first thought, “Where do you come from?” was the question that preceded an Origin Story. But then, thinking about my own life, the question could be, “How did you get here?” And “here” doesn’t have to be a place; it can be a way of being, a point in a career, or in a particular situation.

 

We all have Origin Stories, several of them that stem from different parts of our lives. You probably share some of your Origin Stories without even realizing that’s what you’re doing. But since it’s a part of building relationships, it’s likely that you have constructed some of your Origin Stories to deepen relationships, and perhaps you even occasionally deliver one of your Origin Stories in a way that keeps a particular listener at a distance.

 

Here’s what I read about Origin Stories:

 

Your personal origin story reveals how you got started, as well as what you went through to get there, and why it matters. [T]hey include a combination of five key ingredients:

 

  • The memorable story you tell over and over again
  • The struggles you faced getting started and how you faced them
  • When you saw a path or solution others didn’t
  • Where you took a measured leap of faith that paid off, and
  • The moment you knew it was all worth it

 

https://www.jutecreative.com/tools/five-easy-steps-to-develop-your-origin-story.html

 

Your best Origin Story, the one you save for people you are close to, or in those situations when you feel moved to share, most likely include these ingredients.

 

To experience what I’m talking about, I would like you to take the opportunity to share an Origin Story. So, how did you get to St Stephen’s? What is the origin of you worshiping here? Share that with someone near you.

 

<time for sharing>

 

Thank you for doing that. I hope that you experienced something positive between the two of you, even in that short period of time.

 

Sharing your Origin Story is not always easy. It requires some degree of vulnerability because it requires sharing an intimate part of who you are. Robin Rosenberg of Smithsonian Magazine wrote that Origin Stories often include three types of life-altering experiences that others can relate to: trauma, destiny and/or sheer chance. All three of the experiences inform the decisions we made in the past, and the outcome of those decisions led us to where and who we are today. So, when you share the answer to the question, “How did you end up worshiping at St Stephen’s”, one of those experiences may have been a part of your story.

 

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-psychology-behind-superhero-origin-stories-4015776/

 

In this Origin Story with Abraham, God suddenly imposes on Abraham’s life. Abraham appears out of nowhere...at the end of a genealogy at the end of Chapter 11. Then in this first verse of Chapter 12, God bursts into Abraham’s life! Out of nowhere comes this promise of land, endless descendants and blessing. For each of us here, God is part of at least one of our Origin Stories, perhaps even part of the one you just shared.

 

God appears in both the OT reading and the Gospel. Whenever Abraham told the story of land, descendants and blessing, God couldn’t be left out of the story. That is evident in Romans, which is Paul telling the Christians in Rome Abraham’s Origin Story from his perspective. When Nicodemus told the story of how he became “born again”, Jesus couldn’t be left out of the story. For each of us here, God is part of at least one of our Origin Stories.

 

So, I have to tell you that I left a bit out of the definition of the term “Origin Story”. As it is currently referred to in most modern media and 21C terminology, an Origin Story is:

 

a backstory, or established background narrative, that informs the identity and motivations of heroes and villains in a comic book or similar fictional work.

 

Origin Stories are also marketing tools for businesses – the key to selling your business is to have a good Origin Story. So, the articles I read and quoted, and even the ones I didn’t, were mostly about comic book superheroes and the last 2 decades of Origin Story movies about them, and the rest were about strengthening your brand by sharing the Origin Story of how your business got you where you are today. I only found one single article on a personal Origin Story, and that was a news article about a Presidential Candidate who failed to share a very good Origin Story that many voters would have connected with – the Candidate failed to sell the brand.

 

One article really encapsulated what I’m trying to convey by talking about Abraham’s Origin Story. Dave Robison writes about writing about superheroes. But he took on a project to interview writers about how they got where they are, without realizing he was collecting Origin Stories…until he did realize that’s what he was doing and wrote an article. He summarized the value of the Origin Story like this:

 

The process of becoming the people we hope to be is messy. It’s chaotic, random, and sometimes completely without direction or purpose. Life is like that. But as we live our lives, pursuing interests, developing skills, and acquiring a level of mastery at something, we start to develop a direction. As we make choices and deal with the consequences, we ultimately find a purpose. That purpose WILL change – perceptions and convictions change as life works upon us – but at most points in our adult lives, we will have something that passes for a purpose.

 

Sounds very much like the lives of many of the Biblical characters, including Abraham, Paul and the Apostles. Robison continues:

 

Your origin story is the narrative describing the events and choices that gave you that purpose. By assembling the relevant details of your life that made you the person you are at this moment in the context of whatever it is that’s most important to you, you have crafted your own origin story.
In doing so, you uncover the nature of your own life’s story…and know that you are the hero.

 

https://www.vexmosaic.com/the-mythology-and-power-of-the-origin-story/


That’s true for the characters in the Bible, and it’s true for each of you. Add God or Jesus into that Origin Story, and you have a powerful and meaningful way to relate to others. Sharing how you ended up worshiping at St Stephen’s is a very real form of evangelism. Sharing your Origin Story in which God or Jesus first appeared is the most powerful and meaningful form of evangelism, because it’s you sharing you and your relationship with Jesus with another person. And, yes, it requires being vulnerable.

 

Today’s readings start with the Origin Stories for the Promised Land, for the Abrahamic Faiths, and for our continued blessing from God. The readings also include the Origin Story of a known adversary’s relationship with Jesus. But there is also another Origin Story more powerful than any other: John 3:16:

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 

This is the origin of the New Covenant, the restoration of Humanity to God. This one sentence is John telling the Origin Story of how God expressed love to all people:

 

For God so loved the world that
he gave his only Son, so that
everyone who believes in him
may not perish but may have
eternal life.

 

And all of that required vulnerability on God’s part. It was messy and chaotic, like Robison mentioned. It involved trauma, destiny and sheer chance, like Rosenberg mentioned.

 

The last thing about Origin Stories that I’m going to share is that, an Origin Story tells the beginning of something that’s still going on. If it’s the story of something that has ended, it’s then history. God abruptly entering Abraham’s life is the Origin Story of a Holy Land that still going – and still being disputed. It’s an Origin Story of a lineage that is still going. It’s an Origin Story of blessing that is still going and which doesn’t end!

 

John 3:16 is also an Origin Story
of something that doesn’t end:
God’s Love and God’s promise of
Eternal Life.

 

It’s the narrative describing the Divine events and choices for the purpose of Jesus bursting into our lives. I’m asking you to discover your own Origin Story that intersects with this one.

 

Go home and think about in which of your Origin Stories Jesus first appeared? Then, before Easter, share that story with the person you shared with today, and share it with another person who isn’t at St Stephen’s. In the exercise and in your story,

 

I hope you discover God’s
blessing and God’s love that are
still going on and which
do not end.

© 2020 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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