A tender-hearted boy in my congregation named Clarkie was distraught at Christmastime. The thought of Jesus being born was too much for him. “Why is Jesus going to be born again? Then they’re just going to kill him all over again!” Really, he had a point. Why do we keep going through the same story over and over again when we know it’s always going to end the same way? Isn’t once enough? Someday, I hope that Clarkie will understand why once will never be enough.
We all carry stories inside us. And there is a story above all stories called our master story. It’s the story that determines how we see the world, the meaning we attach to life, and our values. It guides our moral decisions. It’s good to be aware of what our master story is, although most people carry around master stories within themselves with absolutely no awareness of them. Our master stories come from our culture and are often passed on from parents to children. We internalize these stories that shape our lives and they become so much a part of who we are that we may never realize they’re there.Let me give you a couple of examples from our American culture. One very common master story is the rags-to-riches story of success. If we work hard, we can all achieve great things. In this story, poverty is a temporary state and there’s always the hope that things will get better -- for the deserving. People who have lived out this story tend to be the ones we admire most, those who came from nothing and made a name for themselves. It’s part of the appeal of shows like American Idol, which is a variation on the rags-to-riches story.
Another common master story for Ameicans is the story of the lone, self-reliant hero, classically expressed in the American cowboy. This is a story that depicts simplistic, clear-cut confrontations between good and evil. There are guys in white hats and guys in black hats. The villain is purely evil, beyond redemption. Because of this, the hero must act decisively through violent means to eradicate the evil. We can see this master story played out in the movies, not only in westerns, but in characters like Rambo and James Bond.Faith groups have master stories that they share with others in their community. There is a master story for Muslims that is about a faithful prophet who followed God’s will completely and was justly rewarded for that faithfulness. That’s what it means to be Muslim.
For the Jews, there is a master story that is a story of redemption for God’s people. It’s the story of the exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. Jews have internalized this story so that it clearly shapes their lives.Christians have a master story, too, and at the center of that story is the cross. At its most basic level, the church is a community formed around this master story. Our master story makes a difference in the way we live our lives as a community and as individuals within the community.
When we accept the cross as our master story, it shatters all competing stories, as well as our lives. When the cross becomes our master story, we can no longer use and abuse other people to achieve our goals. When the cross becomes our master story, the philosophy that says “the person with the most stuff wins” breaks down. When the cross becomes our master story, power is never about bullying and threats and exerting physical strength.So, Clarkie, here we go again. This week Christians are re-telling the story of Jesus’ death. I hope that as you grow in years you will grow to appreciate hearing this story again and again. I hope that when you hear it, you will come to know that it’s more than just a disturbing account of how a little baby’s life ended. And I hope you can hear it, not just as one of many little stories that informs your life. I hope you hear it as The Story – the one that shapes our life as a community, and the one that shapes your life as a person.