The Power of Story 2 Samuel 12:1-10
11/23/2018 5:17:55 AM
November 18, 2018
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: 2 Samuel 12:1-10
Stories are funny things. It’s hard to tell good stories. It’s fun to tell funny stories. It’s tough to tell stories well in preaching. It’s easy to tell stories preaching, but hard to do it well. It’s hard to tell stories that do justice to the Biblical text, apply to everybody, etc.
Culturally, why do we tell stories? What is their purpose? In part, stories help us to make sense of the world. They may offer explanations for things we see, or they may be ways for us to explore what is true, what is beautiful, what is meaningful. JRR Tolkien, one of the greatest story tellers in the history of the English language, wrote an essay in which we said that we, as human beings, create stories because we are sub-creators. Created in the image of God, we, too, want to create stories and worlds in which to explore beauty, truth and complex ideas. [JRR Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, 1947]
Stories are also ways for us to organize truth and beauty, not only to make sense of them, but to remember them. I remember stories better than doctrines, formulas or creeds. There is an ancient Chinese story about a man who had 2 loves in his life- horses and his son. This is the way I heard it told with some changes….
One day the man’s horse escaped its corral. The townspeople came and told the man he was unlucky. Why had God cursed him that his horse ran away? But the man said he did not know if he was cursed. That night, he knelt by his bedside and prayed and thanked God for his blessings.
A few days later, the lost horse returned, this time with a herd of other horses behind it! The villagers came and told the man God must love him for blessing him so! But the man merely smiled and said he did not know…. That night he knelt by his bed and thanked God for his blessings.
Later, the man’s beloved son was working with the wild horses, training them to take riders. A horse fell on his leg and broke it. Now his son was lame. The villagers came and said God must be angry with him that his son his hurt and lamed. But the man said he did not know if God was angry with him. That night he knelt by his bedside, prayed, and thanked God for his blessings.
A year later, war broke out. The soldiers came and took all the man’s horses! The villagers said truly he must be cursed if he has now lost all his horses! But the man shook his head and said he did not know if he was cursed. That night, he knelt by his bed and prayed, thanking God for his blessings and asking him to provide.
The war was going badly. Many men died. The soldiers returned. This time they took all the young men from the village, except the man’s son who was lame. The villagers came to him and said, “Truly you are blessed because you still have your son!”
I first heard that story 25+years ago when I was living in Nova Scotia. I went to a youth church service one Sunday evening and a friend of mine, now a pastor in Ottawa, told that story in this form. I was mesmerized. I walked away wrestling with that story, pondering it and chewing on it in my mind. I’ve since come to see that my friend adapted it for a Christian context, adding in the man’s faith and prayers. But the power of the story is still there.
Growing up my Dad would sometimes tell stories of various pastors and evangelists and times of revival. I heard these stories and they stuck, even if I had to ask him again the names of those involved.
Duncan Campbell was a Scottish highlander born in 1898. He came to faith at the age of 15, in 1913. Only speaking Gaelic, no English, he served in the British cavalry in WWI. In the last battle the British cavalry fought in 1918 he was wounded and lay in the mud. Then a Canadian cavalry unit charged across the same field and he was trampled!
He groaned and one of the Canadian soldiers heard him. After the charge, the Canadian came and found him, put him on his horse and sent him to an aid station. Tied to the saddle, thumping along on that horse, Campbell was sure he was going to die. He was deeply grieved that he had never shared Christ with anyone. He
prayed, on the edge of death, “Oh, God, I’m dying. Will you make me as holy as a saved man can be?” a prayer from the Scottish revival preacher Robert Murray McCheyne.
The Spirit came upon Campbell and as he arrived at the aid station, he began to sing a Psalm in Gaelic. The English speaking Canadians, not understanding Gaelic, were convicted by the presence of the Spirit on Campbell! Within that hour 7 Canadians were saved! It was a miniature revival. They asked him, “Trooper, can you not speak to us in English? We are seeking Jesus?” Campbell survived his injuries and went home at the end of the war. Later, Campbell became a minister and was called back to the north of Scotland where he saw a more widespread revival. The story of him lying in that mud, praying, “God make me as holy as a saved sinner can be” has stuck with me.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly told stories. We call them “parables” because they are a certain kind of story taken from everyday life. In fact, we are told that with the crowds Jesus always taught in parables, which he only explained in private with his disciples. Yet the people were amazed at his teaching because he taught as one with authority, not like their scribes. [Matt 7:28-29]
Stories can force people to think, enable people to remember, and put people in the story to ask what it means to them. Stories help people connect with the truth!
One powerful example of a story helping a person connect with the truth, against his will, is found in 2 Samuel. King David has committed adultery with Bathsheba and, in order to cover it up, ordered he husband to be sent to the thickest part of a battle where he died….
Read 2 Samuel 12:1-10.
What It Says
Imagine Nathan! Here he is called by God to confront a king. Not just a king, but a warrior king who came to fame as a boy when he defeated Goliath! But while in other nations the king was seen as divine, in Israel even the king had to answer to Yahweh. So Nathan went.
Nathan told a story. Actually, his parable or story probably didn’t seem like a story to David at all. This was just the sort of petition a person might bring to the king seeking justice! It was the kind of thing over which a king would be asked to adjudicate.
Nathan used the power of story to convict King David of his sin. Masterfully, Nathan describes two very different men, in very different circumstances, with different hearts. The first, a man of poor means, has only 1 ewe which he spoils as a beloved daughter. The second, wealthy with herds of sheep and cattle, stole the beloved sheep from his neighbour. Remember, David was a shepherd as a boy! Perhaps he knew of those who had pet sheep!
David’s passionate response to Nathan’s story reveals the truth his conscience was aware of but his mind had pushed down. Sometimes a story can reveal truth to us that we know, but don’t want to admit. Jesus told parables to force people to reconsider what they thought they knew. Stories can challenge our assumptions, our conclusions and even our worldviews.
What It Means
Of the stories we’ve heard today, the man with the horse whose son was hurt, the story of Duncan Campbell in WW1 and the story Nathan told of the two men with sheep, which of these stories is true? The first is not “historical” (that we know of) but it illustrates an important truth. The 2nd is “true” in all aspects but points to a spiritual reality that goes beyond the material world. The 3rd, a parable, is true in a different way.
Stories can be true in different ways. If I asked you about Nathan’s story “Is it true?” what would you answer? It certainly applies to David and Bathsheba!
Where am I going with all this? Stories are powerful. Stories are meaningful. But stories are something we take for granted. We don’t think about stories very often, their power and significance. We never talk about the significance of the fact that we tell stories! We tell stories about history, we also create stories (fiction) but even our fiction, stories that don’t equate to history, are significant. That we bother to compose stories is significant. Why are we story tellers? Because God is a storyteller and we are created to be like him!
The Bible is the true story of God’s loving pursuit of fallen people for the sake of reconciling them to Himself. The Bible contains many small stories. The Bible contains many different kinds of stories- like the
three stories we’ve talked about. The stories in the Bible are all true, but sometimes in different ways. There’s poetry in the Bible. There are parables. There’s another type of literature called “apocalyptic” which is a whole other ball of wax.
But regardless of the kinds of stories within the Bible, the Bible as a whole is a much larger true story of God’s loving pursuit of fallen people for the sake of reconciling them to himself. This forms a powerful lens through which to read the Bible. When we come to parts describing evil, sin or rebellion – that is the “Fallen people” aspect. When we come to parts of redemption, or justice or forgiveness, that’s God’s pursuit and reconciliation.
Big stories like this are called “meta-narratives” but we can just call them “big stories” -- another kind of “big story” are myths, which can be true in their own sort of way. Myths are attempts to wrestle with the truth of reality.
Of all the “big stories” that help people understand reality, the Bible is the one anchored in history. CS Lewis (who wrote the Narnia books) and JRR Tolkien (who wrote the Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings) were actually friends and colleagues in the English department at Oxford in the 1920-30’s. CS Lewis at that time was an atheist (raised in a Christian home) while Tolkien was a devout Christian.
In September of 1931, Lewis, Tolkien and another Christian, Hugo Dyson, had a long (8 hour) conversation at the end of which, Lewis wrote later, Lewis had been convinced that Christianity was the one “true” myth or “big story” from which all other myths found their source. He wrote, “Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.”
We have a video clip dramatizing what that conversation may have been like. We don’t know what they really said (and the video leaves out Dyson) but this draws on the kinds of things both Lewis and Tolkien said or wrote about the topic in other places. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzBT39gx-TE&t=10s]
Postmodernism says that “big stories” or “metanarratives” don’t exist. But that has gotten us nowhere but depressed, adrift in a sea of preference and opinion, high on opioids and morally lost. It doesn’t work. Stories, especially big stories, are too important to dismiss.
Some of us here are not Christians. Some of us are exploring what Christianity is about, who Jesus is. Some of you here are reading the Bible for the first time. The Bible (and Christianity) is the true story of God’s loving pursuit of fallen people in order to reconcile them to himself. That is the “big story” or metanarrative of Christianity. It is the true story that shapes our stories.
God is pursuing us out of love. Loving pursuit is core to Christianity. It reshapes how we might read the Bible. The stories we tell ourselves matter. If you don’t believe me, consider the small stories we tell ourselves. What happens if you live your life telling yourself, “I’m loved” vs “I was an accident.” Or “I’m a victim,” or “I’m entitled” or “I’m right” or “I’m abandoned” or “I’m in control.” The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves matter greatly. Christianity is the true big story that tells us that we matter! And we matter not only to people (relationships matter) but to God himself!
This big story matters when we face difficulty. How? Because the big story of Christianity tells us that our difficulty is not the end of the story. Think of the story of the man whose son was hurt by the horse!
Let me ask, what difficulties are you facing today? Does it make you question the part of the Big Story that God loves you? Remember, the story isn’t finished yet! We went to a funeral yesterday for a lively, bright, beloved woman who was only 50 years old. She left behind a loving husband who is a pastor as well as two sons in their 20s. Her early death, that she was such a good person, doesn’t make sense in the little story of her life. She’s precisely the kind of person we expect and hope would live a long life. But, the powerful message of the funeral yesterday, was that because she knows Jesus her story is not finished yet! God is reconciling her to himself to rescue her from sin and death. Our big stories matter!
In another Tolkien story, The Two Towers in LOTR, Frodo and Sam face tremendous adversity trying to sneak into the evil land of Mordor. There is a brilliant discussion about how in all the old stories, the important ones at least, the people in them had lots of choices to turn back or press on. We don’t hear about the ones who turned back! But instead, heroes press on. Frodo wonders what kind of story they’re in- with a happy or sad
ending? They go on to talk about how, in the future, people will sit around the fire and ask for their story to be read!
Duncan Campbell faced tremendous adversity. A soldier, he was wounded in battle, and then wounded again as a cavalry unit trampled him. But he didn’t turn back. Helplessly wounded, he didn’t let go of or surrender the big story of God’s loving pursuit. Moved by the fact he had never shared Christ with anybody, he prayed to be “as holy as a saved sinner can be.” And by pressing on, many others came to know the truth of the big story of Jesus.
The Big Story of Christianity tells us that the story we are in has a happy ending- has victory in the middle (resurrection) and will have victory again at the end! How we respond to the true story of God’s loving pursuit of us, fallen people, will lead us to either darkness and wrath, or astounding light.
For CS Lewis, he accepted the truth of this Big Story, even if at first it was reluctantly. And it lead him to be filled with light!
How are you going to respond to the true big story of God’s loving pursuit of you? Are you going to press on, like the heroes of other big stories? Or are you going to turn back and never be heard of, dropping out of the story?
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