Dear Biblical Storytelling friends!
It’s July, and in the northern hemisphere it’s hot – the same extreme heat that Australia experienced a few months ago in the southern hemisphere summer, if I remember correctly. And with the heat come drought, and floods, and extreme storms, and short tempers, and increased conflict between individuals and groups, and violence.
As I write, I am praying for all of you who are where these conflicts are happening, whether rooted in economic inequality or religious oppression or political competition for the good things God’s creation intends for all of us – food, water, clean air, beloved community, the Reign of God.
Lord, be with your hurting people everywhere; may we all know your presence so strongly that we can reach out and touch you! I pray for your protection for all who read this, and for traveling mercies for those who are attending Festival Gathering in four weeks. Keep us in your peace. Where there is violence, may we live in your peace and be your peace and spread your peace.
There is good news, too!
Dr. Sandhya Ruban shares that she is “Proud to be associated with PINKS again this year! It was a great experience to tell in Tamizh and share my thoughts with an audience of teachers and students. Looking forward to seeing them all again.” PINKS is the 10th Penang International Kids Storytelling Festival.
I learned more about her from the promo for the festival. It says she “was the content curator for the Chennai International Storytelling Festival…guest performer and moderator of Tamil Language Enhancement Program … and performer on … government owned television…She has been actively conducting teacher training using storytelling as a tool…since 2007 and involved in theatrical production.” Wow!
(Sandhya lives in Chennai, which is experiencing severe water issues. There is much on the net about it, so I won’t repeat it here. But keep her and her communities in your prayers.)
In the U.S., preparations for Festival Gathering are under way. That’s always an uplifting time! NBS TOGether: The Online Guild will be “broadcasting” via ZOOM from FG on Friday, August 2, at 7 a.m. Central Daylight Time U.S., which is Greenwich Mean Time – UTC – minus 5. Or, you can just Google “time converter” if you’d like to join us! To join the conversation or just check in and say “Hi!” send an email request to Joyce Orr, firstname.lastname@example.org, so she can send you an invitation.
Also at Festival Gathering, Juliana Rowe and I will be working together on responding to an invitation to an NBS Institute in Asia early next year. One other person has already expressed a desire to be part of it; if you are interested, please email me (email@example.com). More details after FG!
Meanwhile in Chicago, Prairie Wind Guild is preparing to tell an abridged version of Mark next Saturday evening at the Northern Illinois United Methodist Women’s Mission U[niversity]. Two of us are “old hands” – me and Patricia Lind – and two of us are relative newcomers to our art. When I hear of the amazing work being done by you all, for example Rev. Kim and Janice Kim and her colleagues in Korea, I am humbled – but we keep at it! After next Saturday we need to begin serious work on the abridged book of Acts epic planned for October. Acts is, coincidentally, also the FG epic this year.
The Holy Spirit is surely just as active today as in the days of Acts. Everyone, share your news – and your prayer – with me and I will include it in the next enews.
In the meantime, here are some great insights from Dr. James Fleming, who lived and taught in the Holy Land for 30 years before relocating to the U.S. I have learned so much from traveling with him and receiving his enews. Those of us who don’t live in that part of the world often miss so much meaning – meaning which we as biblical storytellers can imply through voice, face and body in the telling – and then of course explain during the sermon. (Not the telling!)
Background of two parables: What is God like?
Dr. Fleming writes:
Then he said: What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which someone took and sowed in their garden. It grew, and it became a tree, and the birds of the sky nested in its branches. (Mark 4:30-32 & Luke 13:18-19)
Isn’t this a wonderful picture of the kingdom of God? Mustard in that land is mainly field mustard, not cultivated, garden mustard. In fact, mustard is an omnipresent weed!
God is like a man who plants weeds in his garden. The word garden is not the word for farm, which is outside the village. It is the word for a little cultivated courtyard next to your house. God likes weeds so much that he brought weeds and planted them in the little garden, where every inch is important. Then he allowed the mustard weed to get so tall that even birds built a nest in it. Birds are the last things you want in your garden. They eat the seeds and the berries – we put scarecrows in our gardens to keep the birds away.
Jesus says God values weeds and birds. In your life you might feel like a weed or a pesky bird, and that is all right. God loves you. Got is like a crazy farmer who plants weeds in his little garden plot and allows weeds to get so big that birds could build a nest in them. It is a wonderful notion of God.
If someone has a hundred sheep, and one of them strays, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go looking for the stray? And if he happens to find it, I tell you, truly that he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t stray. (Matt 18:12-14 & Luke 15:3-7)
God makes strange choices, not the logical ones. Think of it this way. A female sheep is worth about $300, a male about $100. Female sheep are much more valuable and expensive because you get milk and the future flock from them. (It is merciful for God to say you may give a male sheep or goat to the lord. It would be too hard on the shepherds to give a female goat or sheep as their offering.) Let’s average the flock to be $200 each with both male and female sheep. That would make a flock of a hundred sheep worth $20,000.
Can you imagine a shepherd leaving $19,800 worth of sheep to look for one lousy sheep? Jesus did not say a shepherd found another shepherd to watch over his almost $20,000 flock of sheep while he went to look for the $200 sheep. It says he left them on the hillside. Sheep are pretty dumb, the hillsides are steep canyons – this is the wilderness of Judea. Can you picture that God is like a shepherd who would leave $20,000 worth of sheep to go look for one, and when he finds it, is happier than over the $20,000 worth of sheep? Can you believe the $200 sheep is more valuable than the rest of the flock?
Jesus is trying to get your attention. God is like a shepherd, and an individual sheep like you, like me, has so much value that God will rejoice over the cheap individual one. This is not a good capitalist society parable! Big is not necessarily more important to God. Expensive is not necessarily more important to God. God is like a crazy shepherd who loves every individual sheep, and he even rejoices over that one stupid sheep more than the $20,000 worth of sheep.
It is a wonderful view of God. See how Jesus gets your attention. Unless you know how rugged the wilderness of Judea is, you don’t think too much about the shepherd leaving the flock to look for the stray. But we are not talking about the gentle rolling hills of Pennsylvania, where it is no big deal to leave 99 sheep in a fenced corral. If you understand what the physical setting of the grazing area was like, it helps you understand the significance of the parable.
This is Jesus’ way of getting you ready for the Beatitudes – God loves things and people who are in situations you would never expect, like the poor, the meek, the humble, and the persecuted. God is with individual lost sheep. God remembers marginal people in marginal places. You can’t be too insignificant, too far, or too lost for God who is like a shepherd who rejoices in the individual. No one is too unimportant for the God of Jesus.
May God bless every one of us sheep this summer; may we be wise enough to follow the shepherd to the shade, pasture and water God desires for us and all the other sheep.