Most of the teaching in the church that I grew up in was focused on propositions and ideas rather than stories. Don’t get me wrong, there were stories involved. The preacher in the church that I grew up in was a broad-shouldered country man named Buck. He played linebacker at ACU, went fishing on the weekends, and had a kind voice. So yes. We heard lots of stories.
They were stories about the Gospel, whether they were in the Bible or not. But the gospel that was present in these stories could not stand alone. Or perhaps, wasn’t allowed to stand alone. These stories pointed to ideas, and those ideas were what was important. The stories that we read in Bible class and played with on the flannel graphs, those were all about ideas too. And more often than not, the point wasn’t really driven home until we heard something from Paul. Paul has a lot of great ideas, but he never seemed to tell many stories. But Paul was always the meat of the meal. The stories of Daniel and the lion den, David and Goliath, Joseph and the technicolor, err, coat of many colors…those were all appetizers, just something to whet our appetites until we could get at what would really feed us. That is, a big ol’ serving of Pauline theology. I can smell it right now. It’s cooking in the teachers’ work room.
But the more that I read Jesus and his stories, the more that I see his stories in the world around me. Sometimes the stories are sad, like a rich man wanting so badly to grasp the Kingdom of Heaven but not being able to let go of his riches, or the kid next door who wants so badly to have a father figure pay attention to him that he settles for watching soccer or climbing trees with the grad students next door. Sometimes the stories are happy, like a woman who is pardoned by the man who was asked to be both her accuser and her executioner, or the kid next door who plays happily outside, all the while not knowing that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.
While Isaiah may not see the Kingdom of Heaven in his life, or even be looking for it, there is something about him playing out there in our front yard that points to the Kingdom and draws it nearer to us. And maybe that points to some of what we’re missing in our churches. We must be missing out on something, when we forget that the sound of a child’s laughter describes life in the Kingdom much more poignantly and powerfully than any sermon ever could.
There’s something undeniably mystical and other about the Kingdom, that can’t be described propositionally or systematically. The Kingdom isn’t as neat and tidy as we often try to make it out to be. Like Isaiah, it has grass stains on its knees, and dirt on its face. Sometimes it gets a little nicked up, maybe even a little bloody. Not because it is weak or wrong, but because it is real and alive. It doesn’t want to sit inside all day. It wants to go outside and play hard, to dance and to love. It is a story that wants to be told.
But it is also a story that you have heard. And I’m not talking about broad-shouldered country preachers and Bible classes with flannel graphs, although sometimes they tell the story well. I’m certainly not talking about men in suits standing on street corners. I’m talking about the sweet little old lady who knows that she smells a little funny, but still wants to give you a hug every time she sees you. I’m talking about the person walking down the road carrying everything that they own on their back, who probably doesn’t know that they smell funny, but you certainly would if you were to give them a ride. I’m talking about that kid on your street. These are all images of the Kingdom of Heaven. They are walking stories…stories that you will never hear unless you invite them into your home, into your car, into your embrace.
But for now, I’m going to go outside and play.