ANCIENT BUT NEVER OLD

Rev. Phil Dieke
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In our family, we often play a game we call “Top Five/Bottom Five.” I have no idea if this is a real game, or if my husband and stepkids invented it, but it’s one of those conversation-starter, everyone-gets-a-turn, pass-the-time games. I imagine you can guess what it entails, given its very creative name.
“Top five/bottom five foods.”
“Top five/bottom five holidays.”
“Top five/bottom five fro-yo toppings.”

Depending on how long the car ride, how boring the event, or how much we’re avoiding housework, we get more and more creative with our topics.
 
“Top five/bottom five cinematic trilogies.”
“Top five/bottom five shapes of french fries.”

There are also lively discussions when we disagree on said top and bottom rankings, as well as whether we’re allowed to have ties or honorable mentions.
It’s more fun than it sounds.

As we get going on our yearlong series, Unfold: A Year of Discovering Story, about finding our story within God’s story, I want to ask you: what are your “top five/bottom five” stories? Top stories are generally the best of the best – epic tales, great character development, complex narrative arcs, satisfying endings. Bottom stories are the ones you wish you hadn’t wasted your time on – the duds, the snooze-fests, the unnecessarily confusing, the ridiculously constructed, the poorly executed.
Now, I am the first to admit that sometimes something makes it into my top five that isn’t objectively the greatest story ever; it just for some reason holds a special place in my heart. Nostalgia. Comfort. The right amount of cheese. But generally speaking, one of the hallmarks of the stories we deem the best is that they’re good enough for multiple tellings. They’re good the first time, and they’re good the 100th time.
My top stories have changed throughout my lifetime, as I’m sure yours have, too. We discover new stories, and we sometimes go back and revisit an old story only to discover, with great disappointment, that “wow holy cow this does not hold up to present-day standards omg this is so awkward to watch I’m turning this off.” Just scroll through Netflix’s “90’s Binge-Worthy Shows” if you don’t believe me. There are some real “yikes” moments in those.
I’d say it’s pretty normal for our stories to shift over time. It means we’re growing, learning, and changing.
But what are the stories that have stuck with you for years, or even decades? Maybe it’s the story of how you rescued your first pet, or how you met your partner. Maybe it’s a story passed down in your family about a favorite recipe, or a great uncle who invented canned biscuits (real example; remind me to tell you sometime about Uncle Lively), or how your grandmother saved every single piece of aluminum foil and washed it and reused it because once you’ve lived through the Great Depression and wartime shortages, you never throw anything away again.
What stories in the bible would make up your “top five”? How about “bottom five”? (There are lots of both kinds, in my opinion, as well as lots of ties and honorable mentions.)
For the past several months, I have been captivated by a particular lyric in one of my favorite songs – “Gloria” by Josh Garrels. Give it a listen if you’ve never heard it, and keep an ear out for these lyrics in the second verse:
Come in from the cold; come and rest your soul; join us by the fire.
Tonight the story’s told, ancient but never old, of when Savior came.

Ancient but never old. What a beautiful line. I can’t describe why exactly, but those words just stop me in my tracks every time. There’s a mystery about them. A dignity. And yet also a freshness and a spark.
This is probably the biggest “Sunday School answer” ever, but oh well. I’ll say it anyway – the stories of Jesus take up most if not all of my “top five” spots for bible stories. The accounts of Jesus’ birth. His baptism. His friendships with women and men to whom most of society paid precious little attention. These stories are ancient but never old to me. They give me something new every single time I read or hear them, and yet they’re as familiar to me as the back of my hand. They comfort me one day, and annoy me the next. They teach me about myself, about God, and about my fellow created beings.
What stories are ancient but never old to you?
As we continue to journey through our yearlong series Unfold: A Year of Discovering Story, I invite you to keep your eyes, ears, and hearts open for good stories – old and new, ancient and modern. Maybe find a friend and play a round of “Top Five/Bottom Five” and talk about the best stories, the worst, and everything in between.
Because stories are how we share our lives. They’re how we connect, learn, grow, and change. May we be open to the ancient and the never old in our lives and in the world around us.

Amen and amen.
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