Mimi mama yenu
Sina nguvu tena
Simba ni mkali
By the way you were all supposed to stand and run when I was done with the last verse of the song.… “sasa torekeni” Swahili word that means run now. To literally translate this fable song: it’s a fearless and loving mother who is shielding her kiddos from being attacked by the lion and instructing them to flee from the attack.
This was a very famous folklore song in Kenya some years back and this song was a perfect match for communities especially given the country had lots of wild animals. The folks had to sing such folklore and many others while sharing fables in the evening at the fireplace. The songs and the telling of the tales and fables served as a reminder to families and the communities to be aware of their surroundings and more importantly to learn how to coexist with wild animals like the lions, leopards, elephants and many others.
And of course from the song we just sang one way the communities would do to avoid clashing with the lion/king of the jungle was to flee not because of fear but because that was the best and the wisest solution.
I love stories by the fireplace, whether it’s true accounts of historical events, or amusing and far-fetched tales of giants and ogres, or fables involving animals like Simba – the lion.
Stories have this unique creative and new way of learning. Unfortunately, stories or tales by the fireplace have become a thing of the past for many.
Growing up storytelling and tales telling time was venerated and had a special place and time for narration. At the fireplace me and my siblings would sit around the fire in a small grass thatched hut of our grandparents while fighting back the smoke that was coming from the fire. We would shed tears of laughter, sadness from while listening to stories even shed more tears due to the smoke that was covering our eyes.
These stories were very important to us since as children we were expected to grow into acceptable individuals in the society. They would teach us to work hard, not to deride the sick and we were warned that failure to observe society’s rules would always bring trouble to the family or the whole tribe.
There were fireplace stories and tales for literally every phase of life.
These tales were sometimes joy filled and other times very spooky with the intention of instructing and teaching us.
As the fireplace tales were primarily educational in nature, the telling of tales was surrounded with conventions or settings and taboos.
The first convention that had to be observed related to the prohibition of telling tales during the day. No no no telling tales during the day. It was generally believed that if this convention was violated, all the cattle, sheep and goats would mysteriously disappear and our tribe, clan or family would become irredeemably poor. This convention was intended to prevent people from forsaking hard work during the day in favor of tale-telling. It was part of a social reminder to the effect that there were two distinct modes of activity and that each had its appropriate time.
The actual tale-telling was done systematically so that if the group was sitting in a circle, a clockwise or an anti-clockwise system was followed and everybody present had to tell one. This ensured everybody’s presence of mind because sometimes a story which a particular individual had in mind was told by somebody else.
Just as tradition imposed order on the audience, so did it impose on the tale itself. It did not matter who began to tell the tale. What mattered was how the tale began and ended.
Today’s text or reading is a very popular story that has been read and told for many years. Probably you have read it yourself many times, or heard it from a Sunday school teacher, in a sermon or watched a movie or even attended a theater play.
Nicodemus although he was high priest and among the most learned Jew. He heard of the transforming stories and miracles that were happening in the towns and villages where Jesus had passed by.
Unlike other high priests who were living in denial; blinded by their titles and the politics of the day. Nicodemus knew the power of stories and he wanted to hear from Jesus who was busy during the day healing and setting people free. Not to disapprove or discredit Jesus like many other high priests.
We see Nicodemus had a strong quench for stories and knew the best time to meet with Jesus was in the evening after a busy life of the day.
It’s fascinating how Nicodemus would stalk Jesus and knew the best time to have an audience with him was during wee hours/late in the night.
It might be easy for us to see him as a coward who feared being seen by the people and probably feared being condemned for meeting with Jesus or he was afraid of his social and political position. This could be true!
But what made him unique was he sought an audience with the Rabbi! Rabbi! Nicodemus addresses Jesus as Rabbi to mean Teacher. He wanted to hear the gospel: the good news of the signs and wonders Jesus was performing.
He had probably heard various versions of stories from his fellow priests and among the Pharisees who accused Jesus of using Beelzebul, the ruler of demons, to cast out the possessed people.
There were countless stories of good news, some were even rumors and mongering. All types of stories were roaming around in villages and in towns. At the fireplaces people couldn’t help but tell all sorts of stories of Messiah.
No matter what was said or believed one thing for sure was that there was a movement of redemption stories spreading like wildfire.
And, this where we encounter Nicodemus who took a bold step to find time and meet with Jesus; to hear for himself the good news far from distractions of the day, away from other People’s story versions, he had enough secondary sources stories and he wanted was to hear from the teacher himself/ Jesus the savior the redeemer of the world. The Immanuel- God with us, the author and the finisher of faith. The blameless lamb of God.
Soon after Nicodemus met with Jesus his life was never the same. That night Nicodemus was born again in spirit and water. Jesus invited him into a story that was bigger than his culture, education, bigger even than his own imagination.
Even TODAY Jesus is still waiting and inviting us to continually tell the stories, that good news, that speaks to our individual hearts and that of our beloved community.
We are being reminded that at the fireplace or at the kitchen tables God’s presence is there. Let us prepare our ears to hear and our hearts to receive the transformation that God is in-store for us today.
At the fireplace and at the kitchen tables may the gospel stories propel us to love God with all our hearts and mind.
May our hearts continue longing to hear and tell the stories of Jesus. I love how W. H. Parker, put it in the hymnals:
- Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear,
Things I would ask him to tell me if he were here.
Scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea,
Stories of Jesus, tell them to me.
- Oh, let me hear how the children stood round his knee.
I shall imagine his blessings resting on me;
Words full of kindness, deeds full of grace,
All in the love-light of Jesus’ face.
- Tell me, in accents of wonder, how rolled the sea,
Tossing the boat in a tempest on Galilee!
And how the Master, ready and kind,
Chided the billows and hushed the wind.
Thanks be to God. Amen!
Rev. Peter Karanja