Show & Tell
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Easter, May 7, 2023
“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, where would you begin? What set of facts jump up into your mind to tell me? If I know nothing about you, what do you want me to hear?
1st grade, or 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 show the class and tell about it. Taco, your pet iguana. The Eskimo figure you got at Christmas to finish your set of international dolls. Your model submarine that really dives and surfaces. But you panicked, having to stand before your class and talk aloud, fearful of being laughed at. There’s nothing more cruel than children toward kids showing weakness. Our fallen nature is never so distinctly visible than then. We may even now get the jitters thinking about Show & Tell.
Church service comes through loudspeakers, and in some churches, every man, woman and child learns to hold a mic, speak of their faith, and give a testimony. They tell true stories about themselves. It’s the stories that bring us, that captivate our minds, make us yearn for similar experiences, that give us faith in God.
I haven’t walked on water, in fact I know of only two men that have, yet we all know the story and we consider it part of our heritage. And we ask ourselves, “Would I have stepped out on that raging, stormy lake in the night?” Only one person ever saw a burning bush that blazed without being burned. 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 us, giving us Sweet Chariot and a hope of Elijah’s return. You don’t have to experience a major miracle for a 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, great wine at a wedding, the leper who came back, the man born blind who saw, Lazarus rising after four days’ dead, 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, just once, in many lifetimes. But there were innumerable people living before and after those 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 that one man or woman who simply glowed with the light of Christ and changed their lives. The story goes on, even if it doesn’t take a microphone to tell it.
It’s been taught that Jesus wrote none of the Bible, not even a word. I’ve said it myself. It’s not true. In the 2nd and 3rd chapters of St. John’s Revelation, Jesus dictates seven letters to the churches in Asia—Ephesus to Laodicea—where He evaluates them as His outposts at the close of the 1st century. Jesus wrote two chapters and John recorded them. 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 spoken to Apostles, high priests, Roman soldiers, foreign women, and you. His deeds come to us by these records, and His character is wonderfully etched in the stories told about Him. Jesus wrote these books by living them, by showing us the Father and the Spirit who was to come. Jesus wrote by being a witness to God, as God, for God to us—using the hands and pens and experiences of His disciples. His life wrote it all, and we go on telling His story—our story.
Someday, your loved ones will sit around a campfire or fireplace, the lights dim, the TV dark and silent, and they’ll ask your grandkids about you. “Tell me about him, or What was she like? Tell me about the time when…” If your descendants, neighbors, students, kids you’ve lived your life with were to tell your stories, how would they go? What would be their tale? Would you be the great comedian? Did you inspire others to grow? 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, they 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 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 in class. Your face in an old school photo surprises them: “I don’t remember her being in that class!” In a way, you weren’t.
I appreciate the fact that our church doesn’t make for a lot of shouting and noise that interrupt my fine messages. I would occasionally welcome a response to tell me I’ve been heard or that you got the joke. Amen? Preaching is lonely when you don’t know anyone hears you. In my first year as a preacher, I had one gentleman who was attentive through my Morning Prayer service, hymns and announcements, but immediately went to sleep when I started to preach. It was a post-hypnotic thing. I wasn’t insulted. He never heard a word I said. 3 or 4 words in, and… out! His wife would jab him: “George! Wake up. George!”
That gloriously confounding book of Revelation holds a scene where saints withstand a dragon’s attacks. Do you know how they did it? “And 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 what is your testimony? 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 & Tell? The saints who overcame a dragon didn’t love their lives to the death, meaning it wasn’t for fear of dying that they chose whether to testify, or not. They told the story and took their chances, knowing eternal life is greater than any life they might forfeit.
What would you testify? What’s your story? In my childhood, being in church might only mean you were afraid to hear it said, “his family doesn’t go to church! They’re not Christians!” To be seen on the street on Sunday mornings, in casual clothes, was a scandal. Non-Christians stayed indoors until Sunday afternoon. Today it’s quite the opposite, and people seeing you dressed up in your Sunday best actually going to church: it’s a mark against you in their book. That’s good: point for you.
Now: I ask you why. Why come? What has made you think this is the place to be on a Sunday morning? What happened to you? What occurred? What were you taught and now you believe? That’s your story. We 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—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 friends 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.
Most people rank speaking in public as their greatest fear. 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 during a vision of God’s throne room, told to be a witness to the Jews. And his message was for them 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 destined to fail. But so was the mission of Jesus, to come and be hated and killed. Look how much good that did. And we still read Isaiah’s words with tender care 3,800 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 That’s 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.
Where? When? How about right after church. Practice here: we already agree. Or take someone to coffee. Or just live it.
Come to Communion today, taking His Body and Blood into your mouth and pray that your mouth become the place of proclamation, that the words of your testimony, fearing nothing, not even death, will in your life overcome the dragon.
And that from your home in heaven, you might hear your great grandchildren tell tall but truthful tales, their own cherished, fondly remembered, and most beloved stories about you, and the God that you knew personally.