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Family Stories

Luke 1:1-4; 24:44
Whenever you go to a family gathering, you are guaranteed to hear the family stories. Whether it is Thanksgiving dinner, or Christmas Day, or family reunion time - families enjoy telling and retelling their shared stories. These stories usually start with the words, "Do you remember . . . "Do you remember the time Uncle Ralph came home from the service and he looked so grown up. Do you remember the time when Grandma went on that bus trip to Arizona and we got post cards from her every day? Do you remember when Dad went in to have open heart surgery and we waited anxiously for more than six hours? Do you remember crazy cousins, funny uncles, loving grandparents?
And these stories that we tell, the stories that we live out, these "do you remember stories" are not "once upon a time stories." Once upon a time stories are stories where people always live happily ever after. Some of our remembered stories may turn out like that, but many of our life stories do not end with the words happily ever after. They are stories that involve both joy and sorrows, hurt and loss.
This past summer we visited my mother in Pennsylvania. During this visit I was reminded of my own family stories. I was going through some old family pictures in the basement, and came upon one I had never seen before. I did not recognize anyone in it. It was a picture of a couple of girls, and standing behind them some older women. I guessed that it must have been taken around 1920. This picture startled me. What startled me was one of the little girls in the picture. This girl looked to be about eight years old. She had shoulder length blond hair. And what struck me most about her was she looked amazingly like our daughter Jennifer. Right down to the way she was holding her hand in front of her. I asked my mother about these people, and found out that the little girl was Jennifer's great-grandmother. My grandmother. After finding out who this young girl was, I was taken back a second time. For this girl's life has become a family story. It seemed so strange to see this little blond headed girl sitting there so young and full of life, and I knew her life's story.
I remember when I was first told the story of my grandparents. I was already an adult, and when I heard it, it both astounded and saddened me. My grandmother had married very young. She soon learned she had married a violent man. She tried to protect her children by scuttling them off to her parent's house. What amazed me about this was that though my grandmother had few joys in her life, she was a joy. For she brought joy to her friends and her family, and especially through my eyes, to her grandchildren. it was hard for me to reconcile the generous and joyful grandmother I knew, and the life I found out she had to endure. Family stories deepen our understanding about our relatives and ourselves.
This morning we gather, not as individuals, or individual families, but as a single family. When we come into this church, we leave behind our own family names and gather as the Christian family. And just like at other family gatherings, we hear a family story. This morning we honor one of our family members. We honor him because he told us the most important family story of all, the story of Jesus. The story teller we honor today is Luke.
Luke's orderly account of stories is astonishingly like our own stories of "do you remember . . . " for they are filled with both joy and sorrow and deepen our understanding about ourselves. Furthermore, Luke wrote these accounts with the deftness of a great story teller. When you read or listen to the stories of Luke, you become involved in them. You feel the tremendous joy and anticipation that filled the shepherds as they heard the angelic news proclaimed to them, "Glory to God in the highest and peace to all people on earth!" And we run with haste with them to Bethlehem to see this new born baby. You can identify with the disgust and indignation of the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. While at his house, Jesus let a sinful woman bath his feet with her tears. All of us would have said to ourselves, as the Pharisee did, "What kind of preacher is this man, he should know this woman touching him is a sinner." Consorting with those types of people will never win you friends or influence people. Yet, in the same story you feel the sting of Jesus' words when he points out, "I entered your house and you gave me no kiss, but she has not stopped kissing me . . . her sins are forgiven." Your heart is filled with joy as you listen to the story of the father who had every right to throw his son out, but instead runs to embrace his son who was lost. We can also feel the jealous anger of the faithful older brother, who never strayed, but whose father never threw such a party for him. Then we stand in dismay and horror at the foot of the cross of Christ, and hear these astonishing words from someone who has just been degraded in the most horrible way, "Father, forgive them." Only Luke tells these stories about Jesus.
Luke wrote these stories so we would always remember. Always know the truth, as he says, concerning Jesus. And the truth these stories reveal to us, is that this Jesus of Nazareth is none other than our risen Lord and Savior, who forgives sins, and defeats death.
God's story becomes part of our story. We are sometimes the joyful shepherds filled with joy and hope, as we walk down the hospital corridor clenching each other's hands, hoping to see our brand new son or daughter or grandchild. We are sometimes the older brother, jealous of the unconditional love shown to our undeserving brothers or sisters. We sometimes are the one quick to judge and condemn those who we see as sinners. Yet we are sometimes the ones on our knees before the one who is the source of forgiveness and new life. You and I are the ones who still reject the Son of God. The son who came not in force and might but in service and compassion. The message in all these stories is this; God reached out to the world through his Son, who suffered and died on the cross. And at that place, at that certain moment in history, the world can see the eternal love of God. Then through the son's resurrection we experience God's
victory over every thing that will separate us from God.
Luke does not give us much of an ending to his gospel. Jesus leaves his followers dramatically as he ascends to heaven. However, Luke simply leaves the disciples in the Temple blessing God. He will continue the story in Acts, telling the story of the first Christians life of faith. The story is not finished for Luke. Luke is reminding us that this family story is to be told, witnessed to, and proclaimed by every generation.
We are born into a certain family and our identity is given to us. You and I are connected to people of the past and present and future. We are reborn into another family and receive a new identity given to us by God. In this family we are connected to Christians of every time and every place. This is our family story Saint Luke is telling us, telling us to remember when God came into the world and into our lives.
God knows us and our lives. God knows our jealousies, and our anger. God knows our sin, and yet at the end of his life the Son of God said, "Father, forgive them." Afterwards the risen Lord came and told his followers to spread the good news about God. Tell it and live it, that others might know the truth concerning the God who came to the world as a man named Jesus who suffered and rose from the dead, so repentance and forgiveness of sins can be proclaimed to all.
I cannot but think that somehow this story of God affected that little blond haired girl in that picture. That despite a hard and difficult life, where she knew little joy and happiness, where she would have been right and justified to leave, still she was able to give so much happiness and love to her family. Every Christmas her car came to our house loaded so full with presents that we could not see out the back window of the car. A birthday never went by without a card and gift. When we were sick she would always come to see us, and would say, "I wish it was me instead of you." I cannot explain these actions except that she heard the story that Luke proclaimed. That she knew she was part of another family, and trusted it to be true. She heard what God means life to be for us. A life filled with love, forgiveness, healing and hope. She witnessed to me about the God who came to us in Jesus Christ. She helped me see God at work in my life, in my life story; forgiving me and loving me.
Luke hoped that not only Theophilus but all people would hear God's story, and trust it to be true, and live our lives accordingly. That through us, God's story will continue, so my children and your children, and their children, and our brothers and sisters, and all people, will see and understand God's love and forgiveness at work in their life. Amen.
Christian D. Eichorn
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