I was going to write about how we tell our stories today.
We recently had our annual summer kids program and the theme this year was Superheroes of the Bible. We had a story each day of a character in the Bible who exemplified a “super power,” things like caring, bravery, friendliness and wisdom (and there were lots more, we discovered). On the last day we talked about Jesus and how Jesus shows us that we all have those “super powers” in us and we can all be like Jesus and share those powers loving each other. We’re all superheroes.
It was great and we had fun. Connecting the kids with these “super powers” and how we treat each other – love each other, as Jesus would say – was meaningful, I hope, and I hope that we sent some more confident superheroes out into the world.
The thing I wanted to say was that, when it came to telling the stories of Miriam, David, Abigail, Solomon and Jesus, I told them with a bit of, well, let’s say “creative license.” When David fought Goliath, for example, there was no sling and stones and he didn’t chop Goliath’s head off (1 Samuel 17). He made Goliath slip on a banana peel and, when he fell, David hit him over the head with a turnip. David was vegetarian, by the way. The whole story tells much better, really, but the point is that I kept the essential truth about David being brave and adjusted the narrative to make that point in a way more appealing (no pun intended) to kids. Really, it did work. It was fun, engaging and meaningful. And then we had crafts and games and awesome snacks that were pretty much like having a meal.
So, yes, I was going to write about how we tell our stories – I guess I have a bit – but then I realized the more significant thing: we made being in church fun, engaging and meaningful.
I think that’s a sentence we don’t hear often enough. Unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not thinking that “church” should be all about having fun and being entertained. Appropriate respect and reverence for things sacred is important and there can be serious issues addressed when we gather as a faith community – anytime we gather as a community. But that needs to be balanced with lighter moments, moments when the learning and the worshipping comes from engaging God with some humour and a little friendliness. And maybe a snack.
Right there are two key aspects of “church” we need to be constantly considering, appropriateness and balance, and they are reflected in two key aspects of Jesus’ teaching ministry, and we worked them both: stories and food.
Jesus was rarely about doing what society thought was “appropriate.” In fact, an important lesson in all the stories Jesus told – parables and otherwise – was that they challenged the most common thinking in society, they challenged the status quo. Jesus’ behaviour was often inappropriate according to the society of his day: he associated with all the wrong people, he taught and healed on the day of rest, he challenged authority. He challenged what was conventional and appropriate.
Jesus also balanced his teaching with humour and wit. Maybe we have a little different perspective now than first century Jews, but many of Jesus’ stories are humorous and – here’s the food part – much of Jesus’ teaching happened informally with the sharing of food. Some of the stories are about food, too, as is the occasional miracle story (changing the water to wine and feeding the 5000 with a few loaves and fish). Again, maybe it’s less so today, but in Jesus’ day a meal was an important time of gathering and sharing.
All of this is brought out in the Bible stories we hear in church this summer in the gospel of Matthew: the parables, Jesus sharing a meal, feeding the multitude. And it reminds me that we need to be constantly thinking about what we teach and how we are teaching it, how we are engaging each other and how we are engaging God in our liturgies.
I think we had fun with the children and I hope they did too. I hope that they also had a good feeling about being in a church, about hearing stories from the Bible and engaging each other with what’s in those stories. I hope they remember that Jesus wants them to be the superhero they really are and God is always with them to help. And I hope they remember that sharing food is a good way to engage people. We all need nourishment for body and soul.