Saturday, June 6, 2015

Preach Always - only use words if necessary

Sundays after Pentecost Proper 4 [10] Year B

Over the summer, Eira and I tried to make a habit of walking along the beach at Mullaloo as many mornings of the week as we could.  We would go about 7am before it was hot and as the days went by we gradually came to recognise the faces of the regular walkers.

Something about one couple caught us and we would often chat about the beach and the weather.  For ages we didn’t even know each other’s names.  Eventually Taffy and Jane came to know us as John and Eira.

One day, we were talking to Jane while Taffy was walking on the soft sand and we mentioned that we would miss the next day because of church.  She asked and I told her that I was a vicar.  She laughed at once and then said that we would never guess, but Taffy had said just a few days earlier “I bet that guy’s a vicar.”  She called him over to share the news and we all laughed about that.

But it got me wondering what it was about me that made him think that.  Eira thought it might have been the hat I was wearing with the logo from New Norcia, but I am not sure about that.  Perhaps it just goes to show you that there are many ways of letting people know who the Lord of your life is.

This, I think, is at least a key theme in our reading from 2 Corinthians this week.  There may be other important ideas, but I would like to work with this one.

The selection begins with Paul quoting a verse from Psalm 116, but if you follow the reference in the footnotes of your Bible to it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, because Paul is quoting a Greek translation of the Hebrew Psalms and not a very good translation at that.

I think this whole selection is focussed on how important it is that we speak about our faith.  In some ways the text seems to be referring to public preaching and I have two very different cultural experiences of public preaching in this congregation.

I have talked with enough of the Nuba people in this congregation to know that street preaching in your villages and even in the streets of Khartoum was widespread, and that you got really excited about it when you were able to preach to Muslim audiences.  

In Australia we seem to need to be far more subtle than that – although just a little while before I came to Holy Cross I was in Kalamunda shopping precinct when a young man, encouraged by an older man, was practicing his street preaching to the rather bemused lunch-time crowd.

In Australia, there is one thing that one in four of our population fear more than dying, and that is public speaking.  Can you imagine that?  Well I think most of you can, because out of another one in four who fear dying most of all, the vast majority would put their fear of public speaking second.  Most of us are afraid to be asked to do it, and most of us feel awkward in the presence of someone spruiking their religion to us in public.

This passage might be about that kind of “preaching” but I think there is more to it than just that.  If you believe something, then surely you will want to find ways of speaking about that to the people live and work around.  Paul says “we speak because we believe” and I suspect that we Westerners need to recover some of that ability to “Gossip the Gospel” as the early Christians did in the book of Acts. 

I find it a challenge to find ways of talking about these things we believe in ways that non-church people can make sense of.  There is probably a lot we could learn together about that – if you wanted to.  Paul simply adds this encouragement – “For this reason we never become discouraged.”

But there is something in this text that suggests to me that our very lives will speak volumes about what we believe.  I think that he is reminding us that this spiritual dimension of our life – which is transforming the physical dimension – is itself part of the proclamation he is speaking of.  So we can all do that – words or not.  I am sure you will have heard the quotation that some people think St Francis said: “preach always – only use words if absolutely necessary.”  I guess That is why I told you that story at the beginning.  When you become a follower of Jesus, things about you change.  You might not even think they are very obvious, but maybe they are.  Maybe just the way we live is itself a proclamation of the Good News – this is what your life could be like!

As a final thought, I wondered if you considered what would happen if we did this?  Paul says “as God’s grace reaches more and more people, they will offer to the glory of God more prayers and thanksgiving.”  As more and more people come into a faith relationship with God, through Jesus, God’s own glory will be greatly extended by the prayers and thanksgiving these people will give.

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