At the Abbey, we read a lot of ancient stories. The Iliad and the Odyssey, in particular, reveal how stories form our identity and culture. Three millennia ago, the Greek people listened to the poet Homer tell these stories repeatedly. Through listening, the Greek people learned who they were and where they came from. They heard of the war against the Trojans and Odysseus’s long journey home, with many adventures and the spilling of much blood. In addition to history, the people learned what was worth fighting and dying for and what it meant to serve the gods. Direct instruction could have replaced these stories; one could imagine a course in how to serve the gods or a flow chart describing when it is worth going to battle. There is something about the story, however, that brings those facts alive. Instead of memorizing facts, the children are listening to tales of battles full of blood and glory. The story has a value that extends beyond its factual content or instructional worth. Stories engage and excite you, they shape your attitude as well as your understanding.
With that in mind, listen to God’s instructions to the people of Israel after they pass through the Red Sea. In Deuteronomy, God exhorts Israel to “remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm (Deut. 5:15 NIV).” God instructs Israel to remember the story of their release from Egypt. He does not ask them to remember a list of His traits, but rather the account of what He did for them. They are “the people who God led through the water,” and this story manifests the idea that God cares for them and has good things for them. Israel, as a people, are defined by how God loves them and takes care of them. As a result, the Old Testament is full of references to their escape from Egypt.
What does this have to do with us today? We are also “the people who God led through the water.” In our baptism, we take part in Christ's story and also take part in our larger story as the people of God. The story of the Bible, both the Old and New Testament, are our stories. All these accounts reveal how God has redeemed his people, how He has led them through the water and set them free, both from Egypt and from the consequences of their sins. In church, we hear the same stories over and over again, but hearing and rehearing these stories reminds us who God is and how He cares for us. This, in turn forms our identity as children of God. God has designed us such that the stories we hear make us who we are.