Show & Tell
St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Easter, May 10, 2020
“When the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.”
WHAT’S YOUR STORY? If I were to ask you about yourself, how would you begin? What jumps up in your mind to you tell me about? If I know nothing more about you, what do you want me to hear?
Kindergarten or 1st grade: somewhere along there we were given the assignment to find an object at home and, with Mom’s permission, bring it next day to school to stand up, show the class and tell about it. Your pet iguana Herbert. The Eskimo figurine that finished your set of international dolls. Your model submarine that really goes in the water, dives and surfaces. You panicked, knowing you have to stand before your class members and talk aloud, make a speech, knowing you’re being laughed at. There is nothing more vulnerable than a kid in front of kids. We still get jitters thinking about Show & Tell.
There are churches with huge sound systems and lots of microphones. The church service comes through loudspeakers, and every child gets to know how to hold a mic, say churchy things, and give their testimony. They tell true stories about themselves. It’s the stories that bring us, that captivate our minds, that makes us yearn for similar experiences, and inspire our faith in God.
We haven’t all walked on water: I know of only two men that have, yet we all know the story and we consider it part of our Christian heritage. We ask ourselves, “Would I have stepped out on that stormy lake at midnight?”
Only one person ever saw a burning bush that blazed without being scorched. That man told his story, and a nation was born out of slavery.
One aged prophet rose up into the sky alive, and his successor told the story, giving us Swing low sweet Chariot and hope for Elijah’s return.
The fact is, you don’t have to experience a major miracle for the story to become your own. Gideon’s fleece, Jacob’s ladder, Abraham’s visitors, Solomon’s wisdom, David’s giant, the magi’s new star, Simeon’s long awaited Messiah, wine at a Cana wedding, a leper who came back, the man born blind who saw, Lazarus rising, Jesus’ empty tomb: there are many true stories we enjoy and embrace, knowing they are true because they live in our hearts.
So, you don’t have such a story about yourself? That’s not surprising. The Bible only recorded the most unique accounts that happened only once in many lifetimes. But there were innumerable people living before and after the saints we read about who were no less saints themselves and their lives were filled with light. No book sings their praises, but a hundred other saints can point to one man or woman who simply glowed with the light of Christ and changed their lives. The story goes on, even if we don’t get a microphone to tell it.
I’ve taught that Jesus wrote no book, not even a single word. It’s not true, not even factual. For the entire 2nd and 3rd chapters of St. John’s Revelation, Jesus dictates seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor verbatim—Ephesus to Laodicea—where He evaluates them at the close of the 1st century. So Jesus wrote two chapters of the Bible, John as His scribe. Jesus wrote more. Every word of the New Testament, and a great many of the words of the Old, are directly about Him, and contain many of His words to Apostles, high priests, Roman soldiers, foreign women, and demons. His deeds come to us as a record, and His character wonderfully etched in the stories told about Him. Jesus wrote these books by living them, showing us the Father and the Spirit who was to come. Jesus wrote the New Testament as a living witness to God, as God, for God—using the eyes and ears, the hands and pens of His disciples. His life wrote it all, and we keep telling His story—which becomes our story.
Someday, your loved ones will sit around a campfire or a fireplace and someone will ask your grandchildren about you. “Tell me about her. What was she like? Tell me about the time …” If your descendants, neighbors, students, the people you’ve lived your life before were to tell your stories, how would they go? What would be the gist of their tale? Would you come off a great comedian, or someone others laughed at? Did you inspire others to grow as people? Was your life a poem, a song, a novel, a tax return, or a litany of woes? Does your name bring a smile or a look of consternation for those who remember you? Do you really want to think about this?
People live, people die and like Eleanor Rigby of song, they are buried along with their names and no one really knew them, or ever heard their story. There is no greater curse than to remain silent, stoic and shy like a six-year-old who hopes the teacher never calls their name for Show & Tell. No one will laugh at your presentation. And no one will remember you were even there. Your face in an old school photo surprises them: “I don’t remember him being in that class!” In a way, you weren’t.
I appreciate the fact our church culture doesn’t make for a lot of noise that interrupts my elegant narrative. I do, however, occasionally appreciate sounds from you to tell me I’ve been heard or that you got the joke. Really. Preaching is a lonely game when you don’t know anyone hears you. In my first year as a preacher I had one gentleman who, although he was attentive for the Morning Prayer office, hymns and announcements, would immediately fall asleep when I began to preach. It was like a post-hypnotic suggestion. I wasn’t insulted. He never heard a word of my sermons. Three or four words from me and… out. His wife would jab him: “George! Wake up. George!”
That gloriously confounding book of Revelation holds a scene of saints who withstood a huge red dragon’s attack. Do you know how they did it? “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they didn’t love their lives too much to die for Him.” Rev 12:11 The blood is Jesus’ sacrifice that they believe and rely on. The word of their testimony is my sermon today, and how are you doing with that? Who knows you’re a Christian? Who doesn’t know? Who would be completely befuzzled to see you listening to this? Why don’t they know? Are you still afraid of Show & Tell? The saints who overcame a red dragon did not love their lives to the death, meaning the fear of dying didn’t keep them from testifying. They told the story and took the consequences, knowing the life to come was better than any life they might forfeit.
What would you testify? What’s your story? Gone are the days when folks came to church because they couldn’t afford the shame of their fellow townsmen carrying the tale that “that family doesn’t go to church! They’re not Christians!” To be seen on the street on Sunday mornings, in jogging clothes, was once a scandal. Non-Christians stayed indoors until Sunday afternoon. Today it’s quite the opposite. People seeing you dressed in your Sunday best actually going to church are surprised: may mark that against you. Good: one point for you.
Now I ask you: Why come? What makes you think Church the place to be on Sunday morning? What happened to you? What were you taught and now you believe? That’s your story. I want to hear it. I’m the paid professional who can orate on and on, and get printed in the paper, but that’s just me talking—and I hope it’s always His Spirit using me. His Spirit uses you too. What happens to you? Show & Tell. He’s shown Himself to you. Tell us about it.
Jesus was walking and talking with His Apostles and close associates after His Resurrection, telling them how it was necessary for Him to die, and then rise again so that this account of Him would go to the ends of the earth, to all nations, all races, all tribes, in all languages. He said, “And you are witnesses of these things.” Luke 24:48 He also told them, “He who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” Luke 12:9 We can deny Him by saying, with Peter, “I never knew him,” or we can just stay quiet. It’s much the same.
You don’t count yourself a public speaker. That’s ok. It isn’t the quality of your words, but the sincerity of your heart. You fear being criticized. Oh, and Jesus, the greatest speaker and story teller of all time wasn’t? You worry that people won’t listen. No matter. Tell them anyway.
Isaiah was commissioned during a vision of God’s throne room, then told to be a witness. And his message was to “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, their ears heavy, shut their eyes; Lest they see, And hear, And understand, And return and be healed.” Isaiah 6:9-10 That’s an assignment from heaven destined to fail. But so was the mission of Jesus, to come and be hated and finally killed. Look how much good that did. And we still read Isaiah’s words with tender care 3,700 years after his death. It worked. It always works. Tell us your story.
Not one of you is dumb. Not in either sense of the word. None of you is stupid, or unable to speak. You talk to others. What about? Virology? Jesus said “for every idle word you speak, you will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, or condemned.” Matt 12:36-37 That’s ominous, but I don’t think we’re judged for discussing COVID 19. We are in trouble if we only talk weather, or sports, or politics, or God forbid: Religion. Let’s not talk religion with each other. Let’s just tell our story.
When? How about now. Practice now. Tell us. (briefly) Take someone to coffee. Or just live it. Instead of receiving the Body and Blood in your mouth, pray that your mouth becomes a place of proclamation, that the words of your testimony, fearing nothing, not even death, will by your words overcome the dragon.
So that, from heaven, on that day, you might hear your grandchildren tell tall yet true tales, well-beloved stories about you.