I know a man called Paul. Some people might consider him eccentric, but I think it is much more accurate to understand him as being a perpetual whirlwind of creativity and kindness.
He once did something very silly, which was to metaphorically immerse himself (and his family) in the Gospel of Mark for a period of time. It was a silly thing to do because that’s the kind of opportunity God might take to shift some heavy furniture in your life and, to be honest, who needs that kind of hassle?
Anyway, I imagine that he experienced all kinds of amazing revelations during this time, and he decided to share one of them with me. At least, I assume it occurred to him during this time. It might not have. It’s possible he could have known it for twenty years and then randomly decided to drop it on me one day. As I said, he’s a whirlwind of creativity and kindness.
In Mark 14, a woman anoints Jesus at Bethany. This fantastic little story appears in all four gospels, with particular nuances in each account. In Mark and Matthew Jesus uses a strange little phrase that, I must admit, I’d never really understood: “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
I found it an odd comment. I suppose my confusion may have come from years of a particular type of Evangelical brainwas…I mean, teaching, where ‘preaching the gospel’ hadn’t been done properly unless you had quoted a large chunk of Romans. Telling a story about some woman spilling a jar of oil over Jesus’s head like a clumsy waitress didn’t quite seem to cut the mustard. But Paul pointed out to me that, right here, Jesus links the telling of stories with ‘preaching the gospel’. So, he said, perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus’s expectation was that the main way that his disciples would share the gospel when he was gone was by telling stories.
Is Paul right? Well, I know another man. This one’s called Pete. He’s got the soul of a poet, and it’s trapped in the body of a bouncer. Not really trapped, I suppose. It’s more of a symbiotic relationship. Some people might consider him intimidating, but I think it is much more accurate…actually, OK, he can seem quite intimidating when you first meet him. But he’s not really. Not when you get to know him; him and his gentle poet’s soul.
He does silly things too, and as a result he’s probably changed more lives for the better than he’ll ever know. I heard that he once pointed out that when we want to evangelise we tend to mine Paul’s letters for nuggets of theological truth, and forget that those same letters were actually written to people who were already Christians. If you want to share the gospel with non-Christians, he says, it’s better to spend a bit of time looking at how it was done in the Gospels and Acts.
So if you look, what do you find? You find stories. Jesus tells parables; carefully encasing the whole Kingdom of God in each self-contained scrap of micro-fiction. That’s a neat trick. In Acts, most of the recorded evangelistic speeches are just stories. Sometimes Paul shares his own story, but other times he, Peter and Stephen do nothing more than repeat people’s own stories back to them, but each time adding a postscript: “Now let me tell you where Jesus fits into your story…” Indeed, it seems that when Jesus was gone, the disciples preached the gospel by telling stories.
I am grateful for the things that these two men have shared with me. I am much more grateful for the two men themselves.
So, take note, men and women of faith! Do not neglect your story! Somewhere along the journey we may have lost our way, and belittled our stories. Do not do such a thing! Your story has been entrusted to you, and you alone, for the purpose of bringing the gospel of Jesus into the lives of family, friends, neighbours and curious strangers. Do not dare to be ashamed of it. Own it, and proclaim it, for when you do you are preaching the gospel.