This past Sunday I preached about “messages” and “messengers.” Stories and storytelling are distinct yet inseparable aspects. Have you ever heard a good story told badly? Sure you have. I would even imagine that you have heard boring stories, stories you have known all your life, stories that you thought had nothing left to give you and yet, when you heard it from a a good storyteller it was magic to your ears once more! I heard a tale from our history this past week that was both familiar and completely new and I think it illustrates this point.
It was a chilly Boston afternoon on April 18, 1775, when a young boy overheard working in a stable overheard two British soldiers speaking in hushed tones. They were lamenting the following day as if it was going to be a harsh one. The boy ran across town to the home of a silversmith named Paul Revere. Sounding familiar yet? Revere and others had noticed troop movements in the harbor and other things which made him uneasy. So at 10 o’clock that evening he set out on the famous “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”. He traveled 13 miles in two hours heading north and west, knocking on doors, getting the church bells ringing, and others carried on where he left off. The next morning as the British set off on their march, they were met with fierce resistance and the Revolutionary War had begun.
What I didn’t know was that there was another rider that night who left from Boston, a tanner, named William Dawes. He too took the sensational news or “message” and headed west and angled northward warning the towns and communities. But along Dawes’ ride, the militia leaders were not alerted. Some historians have tried to explain this by saying that the towns that Dawes rode through were more pro-British. From what I have read on the topic, this seems very unlikely.
Both men had the same “message” but only one of them was the right “messenger." Perhaps Revere was just more charismatic, More connected to the community. This may be evident by the fact that the young boy traveled across town to tell him of what he overheard. Revere was well known and respected. The center of a gathering resistance. Honestly, I don’t mean to discredit Dawes or anything, I don’t know anything about the man … BUT isn’t that the point? I had never heard of Dawes before last week and perhaps this is your first time to hear his part of the story too. Dawes had the same compelling message that Revere had, but he was the wrong messenger. He couldn’t tell the story in a way that moved people to action. How many churches do we see going down Dawes' path toward insignificance?
So many times the gospel writers share the awe people had at Jesus’ authority. “They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.” (Luke 4:32) What they meant by “authority” was not Jesus’ knowledge of the scriptures, the law, or about God. What they meant was simply that he accomplished what he said. He had authority because his message of hope and salvation for all people was accomplished by the messenger's sacrificial actions. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s message of love. The message and the messenger.
We, as the church, are the Body of Christ and therefore the messengers of this great message of hope. The Bible is the greatest story ever told. It’s a love story of sacrificial redemption. It’s a story of God’s resilient presence with us through the hard times. It’s a story of a Father running like a fool to his Prodigal Son, and throwing the greatest feast ever! Why? Because we were lost, but now we’re found … that message of God is the greatest story we will ever hear: God has found us! We are known fully, despite our wandering away and loved for who we are … God’s beloved child. That is who we are called to become. The question remains: will our midnight ride embody that great message and wake up our world as Revere did on that fateful night many years ago? Or will we ride off, distant and disconnected messengers from a message the world is longing to hear?
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
I'm a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, pastor, story teller, asker of questions, inspired by biblical narratives, social justice advocate, sports enthusiast, drinker of over priced coffee and general seeker of God's redemptive possibilities. Yeah, that about covers it. (If you discover something else, let me know!)