May 19, 2024

Acts 2:1-21
John 15:26-27
Romans 8:22-27


I began to write this sermon in the middle of the week when I was suffering from laryngitis. The virus that took hold of me a week before started by giving me a sore throat, and then made my voice get hoarse, and then caused it to disappear almost entirely. All the coughing I was doing just made the throat situation worse, and I agonized with every cough, knowing that it was doing even more harm to my vocal chords with each one.

I explained to my doctor how important my voice is to my life and work – as a preacher and as a singer. I wanted her to take pity on me and prescribe some anti-biotics, but it was also true. I don’t know how I could fulfill my calling without my voice. It would be a lot more difficult.

There are a number of places in Scripture where the mission of the disciples and the mission of the church that would follow are expressed. In Luke 9, when Jesus first sends out his disciples in his name, he tells them “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, when the Risen Lord speaks to his friends on the mountain, his last words to them are that they should go and make disciples, baptizing people, and teaching everyone to obey Jesus’ commands.

The mission as expressed in John begins with an emphasis on the disciples loving others as Jesus loved them, and following his commandments. But in this Gospel in which Jesus is described as “God’s Word made flesh,” the greatest gift they have received is God’s Word of Love, and they also are sent to share that Word. In this morning’s short passage from John 15, Jesus says to them: “You also are to testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

Now, there are certainly arguments to be made that Christians can share our faith in lots of other ways besides preaching. We are encouraged to express our faith gently and faithfully through acts of kindness, generosity, and care for the people around us. Many of us may rarely say a word about Jesus during the week, but we live out our faith in the ways we treat our co-workers and families and neighbours with respect, dignity, and loving kindness.

Perhaps a well-known quote from St. Francis of Assisi comes to your mind, as it did to mine. He is rumoured to have said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

But various people who have studied St. Francis’ writings claim that he never actually said that. The closest thing they could find to that quote in his writing was in an instruction to his brother Franciscans on how they should practice their preaching. Francis wrote: “No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church, nor unless he has been permitted by his minister… [And] All the Friars… should preach by their deeds.”

Essentially, make sure your deeds match your words. Don’t be a hypocrite in your preaching. What we preach should be lived out in the world in our daily lives, embodied in our love and care for one another, neighbour, and stranger.

A biography of St. Francis by Thomas of Celano explains that Francis was quite a preacher: “His words were neither hollow nor ridiculous, but filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, penetrating the marrow of the heart, so that listeners were turned to great amazement.”

Francis clearly spent a great deal of time using his words when he preached, “sometimes preaching in up to five villages a day, often outdoors. In the country, Francis often spoke from a bale of straw or a granary doorway. In town, he would climb on a box or up steps in a public building. He preached to… any who gathered to hear the strange but fiery little preacher from Assisi.” He was sometimes so animated and passionate in his delivery that “his feet moved as if he were dancing.”

That description of preaching definitely involves the use of words, but it’s also more than words. It’s preaching that arises from faith and passion and commitment and love for the people who might come to hear. It’s preaching that is not disconnected from a life of loving deeds, but the words spoken are spectacularly important as well. As the author of John’s Gospel described his own proclamation in the words of the Gospel, “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

So yes, the preacher needs her voice! It is vitally important for the ongoing mission of the church that preachers preach and the good news about Jesus is shared with all the people of the world.

Pentecost Sunday always reminds us of this central task of the church to speak about God’s deeds of power. But it also reminds us that it is not a task reserved for clergy alone.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, [the followers of Jesus] were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

Not only did the Spirit give each and every one of those Jesus-followers the words they needed to share about God’s love in Jesus Christ, but the Spirit gave them the ability to say it all in a language they had never studied, or perhaps even heard before.

Some of you were brave enough today to stand up and read John 3:16 in a language that you know. Thank you for doing that, for helping us to celebrate the proclamation of the gospel in all the languages of the world to all the people of the world.

The next step, in faithfulness to the Scriptures today, is for each of us to keep that proclamation going – to keep on putting our faith into words that can communicate God’s love and grace to the diverse people around us. It might mean different languages. More likely it will mean more informal language that meets people where they are at. It’s probably not sermons on street corners, but honest conversations with people you know in the midst of life. Gentle words of grace, always accompanied by deeds of love.

I found an old sermon that I wrote for Pentecost Sunday back in 2015. In that sermon, I invited the congregation to turn to one another and practice sharing the gospel in their own words.

I pointed out that the language in the verses from John’s Gospel today sound like a courtroom. The Holy Spirit is described as an Advocate (a lawyer, someone who is helping us with our case) and we are told that we need to testify. We need to be witnesses to what we have seen, and heard, and what we believe about Jesus.

If you watch any courtroom dramas on television, you’ve probably noticed (like I have) that witnesses don’t just walk in off the street and offer their testimony. Instead, there is a lot of time and effort spent on getting them prepared. Their lawyers go over the questions they intend to ask them, and they figure out the questions that the opposing counsel might ask. And then they practice.

I was watching a show the other day in which the lawyers brought the key witness to the actual courtroom so she could sit in the witness box and practice answering the questions right where she would be answering them “for real” in a few days.

When it comes to sharing our faith as Christians today, we can be confident that the Holy Spirit is going to help us. But the Spirit probably won’t rush in like a violent wind and tongues of fire and give us the sudden gift of being a charismatic preacher.

Instead, the Spirit may prompt us, and encourage us, and help us to practice what we could say to a neighbour, or friend, or family member about the difference that Jesus has made in our lives.

So we will need to practice. Practice being a witness. Practice our testimony. Now, don’t tell me that you don’t know Jesus well enough to do this. You don’t have to have seen everything. You don’t have to know all the answers. You just have to open your mouth and tell someone else about what you have seen and heard, and what difference it has made in your life.

I’m not going to make you do this during worship today, but maybe you’ll be brave enough to give it a try during coffee hour. Share something about the good news of God in Jesus Christ that has made a difference in your life.

Let me give you a couple of examples…

I remember the way that Jesus approached people that everyone else avoided. He wasn’t afraid to go up to lepers and touch them, while everyone else stayed far away to protect themselves from getting sick. When I’m feeling ugly, or stupid, or unpopular, I remember the way Jesus loved the lepers, and I know that he loves me also.

I also remember what Jesus said about the Reign of God. He said that it is like a mustard seed. It starts so small that you can hardly see it, but suddenly it begins to grow and grow. It grows so big that it becomes a beautiful big tree, and the birds make their nests in its branches.

I remember that promise when I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the bad things in the world, when it seems like goodness and righteousness are so tiny compared to the evil, and violence, and hatred all around us. It reminds me to keep my eyes open for God at work around me in surprising and wonderful ways.

I wonder what the Holy Spirit will prompt you to share with someone in your life. Let the Spirit prompt you or even push you to try it out on someone safe and supportive during coffee hour.

It’s always possible that those who hear us sharing from our hearts will think that we’re crazy or even drunk. But let’s not let that stop us from living into our vocation as the People of God who proclaim God’s love to the world.

As the prophet Joel assures us, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’