are you sitting comfortably?

Stories are brilliant.

As a toddler I used to love the afternoons when my Mum would turn on the radio and we would enjoy ‘Listen with Mother’. A plummy BBC-voiced lady would read a short story for children, but would always begin with: “Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin.”

One of the things I miss is that my children are now too old for me to read them bedtime stories. I used to enjoy those moments when they’d snuggle down, having chosen the story for the night, and I’d read them the story. It was a wonderful time.

I can still remember some of the stories with great affection, especially Isabel’s Noisy Tummy which was about a girl (Isabel) whose tummy would not stop making funny noises, despite the best advice of family, friends and doctors. There’s a wonderful ending to the book, which I won’t spoil for those of you who will now rush out and get it, but suffice to say that the children learnt the last line and would join in with gusto.

Later on, when I was feeling inspired, I started making up stories of my own. They were about a little boy called Dave: ‘sometimes he was good, sometimes he was naughty.’ He got into all sorts of mischief but his parents never stopped loving him and helping him to learn from his mistakes. Thomas loved the Dave stories and would sometimes request a new one based on a scenario he had come up with. When Hannah got older she demanded Dave stories, but surprisingly he also had a little sister, Daisy, who could be as much trouble as Dave.

These stories are now just family folklore. They no longer get told. That reminds me of the stories my Great Grandad used to tell us about a family of ducks – the main protagonist being called ‘Willy Waddle’. I know my Mum persuaded him to write some of them down and they exist somewhere among her treasured possessions.

I am looking at my open Bible at the moment and wondering in amazement how this book has come to me. It was not simply some stories that were made up and passed down from generation to generation until someone was persuaded to write them down. This is not mere history though – it is His story: a record of human encounters with the Divine.

Like many people I have favourite passages. I love Isaiah 6, because God spoke to me through it about my own call to be a Minister. I love Paul’s letters to Timothy, the young Minister of Ephesus Baptist Church* because they resonate with my early years as a Minister, and they contain these words from 2 Timothy 4 that were ‘given’ to me when I was baptised at the age of 13, before I had considered a call to Ministry:

But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

But my favourite of all are the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In them we find out about Jesus of Nazareth. He was a master story-teller (no record of him telling any about Dave), a man of compassion and grace, a confronter of prejudice and hypocrisy, a reconnector of people and God.

But he also claimed to be God. The gospel narratives blend together to provide the most wonderful picture of God among us. Joan Osborne sang a song a few years ago that asked the incarnation question:

If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with him
In all his glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?

Chorus: And yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that
you would have to believe
in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints
and all the prophets (chorus)

Trying to make his way home
Back up to heaven all alone
Nobody calling on the phone
‘cept for the Pope maybe in Rome(chorus)

Just trying to make his way home
Like a holy rolling stone
Back up to heaven all alone
Just trying to make his way home
Nobody calling on the phone
‘cept for the Pope maybe in Rome

How do you answer the questions in the song? Is Joan Osborne being cynical, questioning, genuine, critical?

How do you respond to the narratives of the gospels that speak of God as one of us? Have you ever read one – start to finish – as you would read any other book?

I have added ‘Luke’ to my reading list for my sabbatical and am going to spend a day this week just reading the narrative again: start to finish.

Be blessed, be a blessing

[No joke today, but go and buy Isabel’s Noisy Tummy (second hand copies on Amazon) and enjoy it instead. The ending will make you laugh.]

*Okay, probably not a Baptist Church by name at that time, but on a trip to a village near Ephesus a couple of years ago our guide showed us the ruins of an ancient Roman church with an open baptismal pool, which my imagination leapt to thinking it was Ephesus Baptist Church, where Rev Tim pastored.

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