In the pantheon of great Calvinist movies, surely there is none better than A River Runs Through It. Okay, I admit it. There are not too many in the running. There is the great Dutch film,Babette's Feast that definitely is worth watching several times as well as some moments inChariots of Fire that Calvin would have loved, but Norman MacLean's honest, searching, tragic, and all the while grace-filled movie about a Presbyterian family growing up in the still emerging wild of western Montana wins by a fair margin.
The story serves as a memoir of the particular challenges that faced frontier families in a nation that was coming into its own, but also as a common tale of the deep bonds and struggles that every family faces as children grow and obey and rebel and become adults themselves. It is in many ways a retelling of Jesus' most famous parable: the story of the prodigal son with new elements like western bars and brothels, fraternal fist-fights and - of course - fly-fishing. It certainly didn't hurt it's box office sales, either, to cast Brad Pitt in the role of the prodigal.
As the movie opens, though, we are introduced to the other brother, the older brother: Norman MacLean, speaking with the measured voice of Robert Redford who opens with this memorable line:
And with that you are launched on a voyage that will take you into the story of this family, a trip that will take you into all of the travails, the surprises, the delights and even the difficult waters that threaten to break and will humble them, the very ebbs and flows that are found in all of our families just as they are found in every river that courses its way through the great Rockies. Either by choice or by calling, it becomes Norman's task to tell this tale, and to do so long after the family has passed through the waters. By the end of the movie, as Norman concludes the story, you have the sense (even through all the loses and pain) God's grace and beauty has touched this family.
In its own way, this is what all of the stories of the Bible communicate to us as well: God's grace touching and healing our families. For that is what the Bible is: a collection of stories about God's grace. Sure, they are not just "stories." We know that. They are - in fact - holy stories, holy rememberings and tellings of how our holy and loving God has called us and led us in specific moments in real history. The Bible is the story of the Israelites being rescued out of the slavery behind them and carried along to the promised land of safety before them. It is the passionate pleas of the prophet crying out for a true repentance in an age of national tragedy. It is the account of a seemingly ordinary moment when a widow and her daughter-in-law went to work in a wheat field and secured not just their protection but the continuation of God's plan of salvation. But, still, these holy stories need storytellers. God's inspiration needed God's vessel, and - thanks be to God - the Bible is full of faithful servants: from Moses proclaiming God's word to a nation in the desert to Paul writing his letters by candlelight.
This Sunday, we'll close by singing the hymn "I Love to Tell the Story." Of course it is referring to the beautiful command and gift of being able to tell new generations about the saving love of God in Jesus Christ. But, I think it is also a good reminder of the value of just being storytellers ourselves. It is a reminder that - in our own way - we might be called upon to tell the story of our family, so that we might know what has happened and why.
Have you ever considered what your family story might be? What stories have you held onto? What do those stories say? What values do they communicate? What lessons do they teach?
And the next time you pick up your Bible, try to remember that the words you are reading are not just words that fell out of the sky. You are reading a book that was written by individuals who faced the same realities of life we face: uncertainties about the future, life that is busy and complicated, economies and nations that go through good and bad times, and the normal routines of home and work. Realize you are holding a holy book that is couched in the humanity we all share - whether we are father Abraham or Norman MacLean. You are holding a book that human beings like you played a role in passing on to you.
That is the way of Christ after all. His holiness meets us where we are. It's incarnational, and that's what makes grace such a gift and such a beautiful mystery. All we have to do is to take the time to listen, to observe, to consider where Christ is in our midst. He's here. Even now. Even in our life, and maybe some day we'll find a way to tell the story ... to tell our children ... so they can tell their children.
Let's tell the story,