Ugly Stories

This preaching series is on telling stories. Previously, BEGINNING, LOVE, ORIGIN, FOOD Stories were shared. Next is Ugly Stories. As important as it is to tell stories that bring people together and share fond memories, it is equally if not more important to also share the ugly stories in the church’s history. We must acknowledge areas we need to repent, do better, and make sure not to repeat as the church moves forward.

Scripture Reading:

Genesis 11:1-19

God’s Big Plan by Elizabeth Caldwell and Theodore Hiebert is a great children’s book that gives an alternative reading to the story of the Tower of Babel

I invited kids to help me build a tower out of big building blocks. During the prayers of the people, I had us place our fears on the tower and then the kids helped knock down the tower.


Today, we tell our ugly stories. It shouldn’t be surprising that in 147 years of St. John’s existence that there aren’t some ugly stories to tell. You may ask then if these stories are so ugly why drudge them up in the first place. Because stories have a way of being told whether through words or not – they are carried and passed down through actions, beliefs, traditions, and behavior. Kevin Ford, author of “The Transforming Church,” says, “Part of what makes church or any other place where people come together so difficult is that it constitutes a living system. In truly mysterious ways, an organization is influenced by unseen interactions with its surroundings and previously developed norms.” According to Ford, this manifests itself in several ways: forces individuals – in good ways and bad – to adapt to unspoken norms; tends to perpetuate itself, regardless of the specific individuals involved; and resists change, creating an environment where individuals resist change as well. Remembering the ugly stories gives us an opportunity to critically look at how we function and why – recognizing that how we function influences how we read and interpret God’s story and our own personal stories as well.

And there are some ugly stories in the Bible – stories about God that really make us scratch our heads.

  • Stories of God’s anger like Noah and the ark, where God destroys every living thing by flooding the earth for 40 days.
  • Stories of God’s cruelty like when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac – a son that was promised to him and finally given at the age of 100 years old.
  • Stories of God’s pride like when God allows Job to be tested after God’s Adversary questions Job’s love for God.

And then there’s the story of the Tower of Babel . . . a story of God’s just punishment when God’s people built a tower to make a name for themselves.

[I shared a different interpretation of the story of the Tower of Babel through the lens of post-colonial biblical hermeneutics that views the story as a story of liberation and freedom. I connected the story to a church’s journey of becoming a more intergenerational and intercultural church. We must always look critically on how we are welcoming the Other. What we think is welcoming to the Other may be the opposite when we look at it from their lens.]

Worshippers were invited to share their “Where were you when . . . ” stories. Every generation has a “where were you when . . . ” story – witnessing ugly times as well as great times in our lives. As we remember where we were, we also remember God’s presence and our resilience to hope and love one another.

Some of the “Where were you when . . .” stories shared were:

  • our current president was elected? I had just heard my sister’s story of welcoming their sponsored Syrian family to dinner around their table. That day I determined I would get more active in changing the narrative of fear and exclusion. I have participated in Interfaith Refugee Welcome since then.
  • the Giants won the 2014 World Series. I was at home and I was excited. I remember being happy and joyful.
  • I was in elementary school – 1st or 2nd grade – when the challenger exploded. I remember feeling sad that our class wasn’t watching the launch live on TV and then a teacher came in to interrupt our class to tell us the news. Then someone got a TV so we could watch the news afterward.
  • I learned the true meaning of God and religion. It was November 3, 2013, the first day that I attended St. John’s aftrer moving to San Francisco. Prior to this I was lost and struggling to find inner peace.
  • 9/11 – I was in high school. Class stopped and we watched the news as the 2nd plane hit the twin towers. Instead of sadness, I realized how we felt then was how many around the world felt everyday. America was no longer the safe untouched country. We saw the fear that many live in the trauma, many experience in lands in war, under seige, unsafe.

Remembering Baptism:

Using painting pens, the following words were written on glass stones:

patience, yes, fun, awe, care, accept, forgive, faith, pray, dream, bless, know, trust, wait, offer, see, change, quiet, listen, focus, thanks, shine, rest, mercy, courage, strength, kind, share, loyal, friend, respect, help, zeal, good, wonder, grace, hope, joy, love, peace, laugh, inspire, resilience, create, reflect, rejoice, remember, balance

As the hymn is sung, people were invited to go to any of the baptismal fonts. Instructions were to pause a moment to ask and receive forgiveness. Select a stone in the font. May the word the stone holds, remind you that you are forgiven.”


We Cannot Measure How You Heal

Where Charity and Love Prevail

Goodness is Stronger than Evil

Kids’ Bulletin:


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