Spent last night at a wonderful 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Student Sit-In Movement here in Nashville. The night’s focus was upon the role the students of American Baptist College (where I’m now Academic VP) played in the Movement: John Lewis, Bernard Lafayette, James Bevel, and others. Bernice Johnson Reagon sang us through the history of that Movement, providing historical commentary and clarity to the genesis of certain freedom songs and the healing power of others. Rev. James Lawson, Rev. C.T. Vivian and Dr. Bernard Lafayette brought remarks. Many others who were in high school and college here in Nashville during the movement and took part by cutting classes and showing up for marches were there on the front row last night. Old men and old women now. But their spirits didn’t know it. They beamed. They lived to tell the story.
I’ve been around lots of preachers this week, preachers who spice their sermons with wonderful stories, stories that serve as allegories, parables, anecdotes, life illustrations to the scripture they are expounding.
I’m not much a storyteller. In fact, I probably only know two stories worth telling. One of them I share with you today.
Today I tell you a story…about a story.
An old story handed down in many different versions over many an evening fire. The story is about the great wise woman, the Ancestress. The Ancestress was dying and sent for her children. “I have acted as intercessor for you, and now when I am gone you must do this yourselves. You know the place in the forest where I call to God? Stand there in that place and do the same. You know how to light the fire, and how to say the prayer. Do all these things and God will come to see about you.”
After the Ancestress died, the first generation faced trouble and did exactly as she had instructed them, and, sure enough, God came to their rescue. But by the second generation, the people had forgotten how to light the fire exactly the way the Ancestress had taught. Nevertheless, when times got difficult they remembered the special place in the forest and said the prayer, and, sure enough, God came.
By the third generation, the people had forgotten how to light the fire, and they had forgotten exactly where the place in the forest was. But they spoke the prayer, and, sure enough God came.
By the fourth generation, everyone had forgotten how to build the fire, and no one knew any longer just where in the forest one was supposed to stand, and finally the exact words to the prayer itself could not be remembered. But one person in their midst still remembered the story about it all, and stood one day in the midst of battle and recounted the story of it all to the rest (the story of the the Ancestress, the forest, the fire, the prayer). And, sure enough, God came.