Show & Tell
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Easter, May 2, 2021
“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.”
SO, what’s your story? If I were to ask you about yourself, how would you begin to tell it? What set of facts jump up in your mind and insist you relate them? If I know nothing about you as yet, what do you want me to hear?
It was in 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 before the class and tell about it. Your pet iguana Herbert. The Eskimo figure you got on Christmas for your set of international dolls. Your model submarine that really goes underwater, dives and surfaces. All butterflies, you trembled, knowing you had to stand facing class members and make some kind of sense publicly, with the great probability of being laughed at. There is nothing more cruel than kids toward other kids who shows weakness. Our fallen nature is never so visible than right then. We may even now get the jitters just thinking about Show and Tell.
There are churches where every man, woman and child learns to hold a mic 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 might give us faith in God.
We haven’t all walked on water, in fact I know of only two men that have, yet we all know that story and we consider it part of our heritage. We ask ourselves, “Would I have stepped out on that raging, stormy lake that night?” Only one person ever saw a bush that blazed without burning. He told his story and a nation was born from slavery. One aged prophet rose up into the sky alive, and his successor told us the story, giving us Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and a hope of 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 baby Messiah, wine at a wedding, the leper who came back, the eyes of a man born blind, Lazarus walking, Jesus’ empty tomb: many true stories we enjoy and embrace—they live in our hearts.
So, you don’t have such a story about yourself? That’s not surprising. The Bible recorded only the most unique accounts of many lifetimes. There were innumerable people before and after these saints who were no less saints themselves and their lives were filled with light. No book sings their praises, but hundreds of other saints point to that one man or woman who simply glowed with Christ’s light and changed their lives. The story is told, even if we don’t have a mic to tell it.
I’ve said that Jesus wrote no book, not a single word. That’s not quite true. In the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation, Jesus dictates seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor verbatum—Ephesus to Laodicea—where He evaluates them at the close of the 1st century. Jesus dictates two chapters and John writes them down. And every word of the New Testament, and whole passages of the Old are directly about Him, with His words spoken to Apostles, high priests, Roman soldiers, foreign women, and even demons. His deeds come to us, and His character is wonderfully etched in the stories told of Him. Jesus wrote these books by living them, by showing us the Father, and the Spirit who was to come. Jesus wrote the New Testament by being a witness to God, as God, for God, to us—using the hands and pens of His disciples. His life wrote it all, and we go on telling His story—as our story.
Someday, people will sit around a fireplace, the lights dim, and someone will ask your grandchildren about you. “Tell me about her. What was she like? Tell me about the time when…” If your descendants or students, the people you’ve lived your life before were to tell your stories, how would they go? What would be their tale? Were you a great comedian, or someone they laughed at? Did you inspire growth in others? 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 in those who remember you? Do you really want to think about this?
People live, people die and, like Eleanor Rigby, are buried along with their name and no one really knew them, or ever heard their story. There is no greater curse than to remain silently stoic and shy like a six-year-old hoping the teacher never calls their name for Show and Tell. No one will laugh at your presentation. And no one will remember you were even in class. Your face in an old school photo surprises them: “I don’t remember her in that class!” In a way, you weren’t.
I am happy that our church culture doesn’t have a lot of shouting and noise that interrupt me. But I would occasionally love a peep from my audience to tell me I’ve been heard or that you got the joke. Really. Preaching is lonely when you’re not sure anyone hears you.
In my first year preaching I had one gentleman who participated in Morning Prayer, hymns and announcements, but would immediately go to sleep when I began to preach. It was like a post-hypnotic suggestion. I couldn’t be insulted. He never heard my sermons. Three or four words from me and… out. His wife would jab him: “George! Wake up. George!”
St. John’s Revelation paints a scene of saints who withstand a dragon 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 did not love their lives to the death.” Rev 12:11 The blood is Jesus’ sacrifice that they believe and rely on. The word of their testimony is my topic 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 sitting here today in a pew? Why don’t they know? Are you still afraid of Show and Tell? The saints who overcame a dragon did not love their lives to the death. More powerful that the fear of dying: they had to testify. They told the story and took the consequences, knowing the life to come was greater than any life they might forfeit.
What would you testify? What’s your story? Not long ago, your being in church might have been to prevent your fellow townspeople saying “You don’t go to church? You’re not a Christian?” 70 years ago, to be seen jogging on Sunday mornings was a scandal. Non-Christians stayed indoors ‘til Sunday afternoon. Today it’s quite the opposite, people seeing you in your Sunday best going to church: it’s a mark against you in their book. Good: that’s a point for you.
Now: I ask you why? Why come? What has made you think this is the place to be this Sunday morning? What happened to you? What were you told and now you believe? That’s your story. I want to hear it. I’m the paid professional who can blab on and on, and get printed in the paper, but that’s just me talking—and I hope it’s always His Spirit through me. Well His Spirit uses you too. What’s happened to you? Show and Tell. He’s shown Himself to you. Tell us about it.
Jesus walked and talked with His Apostles and disciples after His Resurrection, telling them how it was necessary for Him to die, and then rise again so that this true story 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, like Peter, by saying, “I never knew him,” or we can just stay silent. It’s much the same.
You may not 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 criticized? You worry that people won’t listen. No matter. Tell them anyway. Isaiah was commissioned in a vision of God’s throne, then told to be a witness to his fellow Jews. And his message was to “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make their heart dull, their ears heavy, shut their eyes; Lest they see, And hear, And understand, And return and be healed.” Is 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 at the 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 your story.
Not one of you is dumb. Not in either sense of the word. Nobody here is stupid, and no one here is unable to speak. You talk to others. What about? Jesus said “that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matt 12:36-37 Those words are ominous, but I don’t think we’re judged for discussing the Giants’ game. We are in trouble if we only talk sports, or politics, or God forbid: Religion. Let’s not talk religion with each other. Let’s just tell our story.
How about right after church. Practice here: we already agree about God’s Son. Take someone to coffee. Or just live it. Coming to Communion today, take His Body and Blood into your mouth and pray that your mouth becomes the place of proclamation, that the words of your testimony, fearing nothing, even death, will in your life overcome the dragon. And that from heaven, you might hear your great grandchildren tell tall but truthful tales, beloved stories about you.
Show your faith and tell your story: Show and tell.
We’re all ears.