There’s an episode in the final season of How I Met Your Mother where Ted, the main character, and his wife are at dinner and over the course of their conversation they realize that they have run out of things to say to each other. Every story he starts she already knows the end of, eventually he finds one that he can and we learn at the end of the episode that she had actually heard that one already too she just didn’t have the heart to disappoint him. Sweet right? Something about that episode has stuck with me, that idea of running out of stories to tell just hit me strangely. Because it wasn’t presented as a good thing, it wasn’t “oh, we know everything there is to know about each other and that’s so great,” what the episode did a powerful job of is presenting a sense of loss at the fact that they had nothing new to reveal to each other, that once they ran out of stories they were moving into some kind of uncharted territory in their relationship, that it would never be what it once was again.
I love stories. Its what got me into wrestling. July 6th 1997, WCW Monday Night Nitro live from the Georgia Dome. The main event? Bill Goldberg, University of Georgia graduate, former Atlanta Falcon, 106 – 0 in his career at the time, challenging Hollywood Hulk Hogan for the World Heavyweight Championship. We were at friends of my parents’ house, their kids watched wrestling, I had never seen it before but they turned it on and I was hooked. Hometown boy, undefeated, against the biggest star in the world who everyone hated at that time. Undefeated streak vs title, hometown boy vs Hollywood phony, good vs evil…my parents made us go home before the match! I had to go to bed that night not knowing what happened. I made them call the next day and ask, the next week I made them start recording Nitro so I wouldn’t have to miss something like that again. Because what a story!? If you watched this year’s NCAA championship game cold, not knowing anything about the teams you might have managed to enjoy the game but if you knew that a year earlier Virginia lost in the opening round, first 1 seed to lose to a 16, and that there was talk about whether or not their coach could ever win when it mattered and they returned almost the entire team because they needed to make right then you were living and dying with every shot. Because the story took hold.
Paul knew the power of a good story. He went from city to city town to town, didn’t go home for years at a time because he had a story to tell. He had story of how he lived his life trying to be perfect, trying to live up to a standard he built up in his mind, a standard that he thought would earn him the love and grace and God. And that desire built up so much inside of him that he began to hate people who weren’t living up to the standard. And when he saw people trying to teach something he thought was wrong he went into a rage and he got permission to go and arrest them to punish them, but on the way to get them, on that road to Damascus, he was struck blind. And he heard a voice from heaven. And he found out he was wrong. In thinking he was serving God he was actually stopping what God was trying to do. And he learned something more important, that his attempts work his way right with God were for nothing, that he would never be good enough to deserve God’s love. But he had it anyway. Because God’s love and grace aren’t dependent on whether or not we deserve them. That God knew we’d never be good enough to save ourselves from the messes we make so he sent his son to save us instead. And that after being blind, physically and spiritually, Paul was able to see.
What a story! And it isn’t just Paul’s story, it is all of our story, the story of a God who so loved the world that he sent his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish and yet we don’t tell it. 8% of people have spiritual conversations once a week, 15% have them once a month, four-fifths of Christians have few than ten spiritual conversations in a year. If you paid any attention to the SBC in Birmingham week before last they were lamenting that baptisms are down, church attendance is down, budgets and giving is down, everything is down and they wonder what’s wrong, it isn’t that hard, we’ve stopped telling the story! “It is written,” Paul says, “I believed and therefore I have spoken. Since we have the same Spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak.” That word “therefore” is doing so much work in this sentence. Because with just that one word Paul is shouting, “if you believe how can you not speak!? If you know the story how can you not be racing to tell it!?” The story compels itself to be told, it has to be told. Y’all know stories like that, those stories that when you realize something is happening to you you immediately start trying to remember every detail because you have to share it? When they put me in the Chinese ambulance to take me to the hospital I knew I had to remember everything so I could tell it late. Is this story not as exciting to us? Is this story not worth telling? Since we have the same Spirit of Faith, we also believe and therefore speak. We’ve got to start telling the story, and here’s why, despite those numbers, the studies also show that people are asking more spiritual questions than ever. As faith starts to decline in society people are feeling the absence. People are still asking the same questions they always have “what is the purpose of life, is there more to existence than just our lives, does what I do matter, is there someone who cares, why do things happen the way they do,” the questions are still there. And the answers are here. And yet we aren’t giving them. And if they don’t get them from us where are they going to get them. “Because we have the same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will raise us as well.” The world has questions. We have the answers. There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul. If you cannot preach like Peter and you cannot pray like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus, and say “he died for all.” Yes there is a balm in Gilead. We believe it, therefore we speak.