June 17, 2012
II Corinthians 4:13 -15 (1)
“We Believe and So We Speak”
Rev. Lauren J. McFeaters
There’s a short story by Lynna Williams called “Personal Testimony.” The story tells about the life of a twelve-year-old girl who has been adopted by a fiery Southern Baptist preacher in West Texas. She grows up listening to pulpit-pounding fire and brimstone sermons, and each summer she attends a Baptist Bible camp in Oklahoma.
By day, this camp is filled with archery, volleyball, canoeing, and arts and crafts. But by night, all the campers are required to attend a “Come to Jesus” revival meeting. It’s an unwritten rule that at least twice during their time at camp each child must come forward at the revival service and give a personal testimony.
The problem is that most of the campers have never had a dramatic conversion story to share as their personal testimony. So the girl of the story discovers a way to both be both helpful and to make extra cash: she becomes a ghostwriter for Jesus. She fabricates personal testimonies for the kids who just can’t come up with anything dramatic to confess. And it works. The kids at camp are all giving the most remarkable testimony about faith. (2)
Lynna Williams’s story plays off the anxiety of many of us that we lack the words to describe our faith; that we need someone else to do it for us. “Please,” we say, “point me to the book where I can read the words to say, the feelings to have.” What we forget is this: inside all of us is the ability to bring forth our faith to speech. (3)
For Paul, many in the church in Corinth have forgotten how to speak the truth about God. A church once so passionate about the risen Christ now suffers from the inability to share the gospel they love.
And why – because they’re caught up in the drama of arguments. Paul finds himself faced with a beloved church that doesn’t trust his words, doesn’t know what on earth to do with all his suffering; doesn’t accept his guidance. So he must once more, with confidence and conviction, speak the truth in love:
But just as we have the same spirit of faith
that is in accordance with scripture –
“I believed, and so I spoke”
--we also believe, and so we speak,
Paul knows the signs of a church who have forgotten how to enjoy the presence of God and how to honor God with their words:
- Worship has become self-centered and disorderly;
- there’s no end to the in-fighting;
- crankiness abounds over who can wear the badge of true spirituality;
- hostility is bouncing off the walls: who has a right to be in leadership;
- who’s in and who’s out;
- who can speak for God!
Paul knows the question is not, “Who can speak for God?” The question is, “Since everything God is doing is for your sake, how will we speak of God?”
When the church is caught up in the spectacle of it all, groaning over one thing, getting their knickers in a twist about another; Paul knows it’s but a smoke screen for what’s needed most. And in this case Paul knows that having gotten wrapped up in the drama of it all the people of God have forgotten how to open their mouths in a “Halleluiah.”
We believe and so we speak.
Expressing our faith out loud is truly a human thing to do. Paul knows you can’t live the gospel without expressiveness; that the gospel is not its own evangelist. “God rides a lame horse and walks a crooked mile,” Martin Luther said. You can’t have the gospel without expressiveness.
Anne Lamott is a devout and sometimes eccentric Christian. She’s someone who knows a lot about belief and expression of faith. She also happens to be very nervous about flying and just a teensy bit superstitious. “I believe that when you get on a plane, if you start lying you are totally doomed.” she says. So, when she was asked by a seat mate at the start of a particularly long flight, to say something about how she came to be a Christian—it gave her pause. “My friends like to tell each other that I am not really a born-again Christian,” she says. “They think of me more along the lines of being Christianish...a sort of leftist liberation-theology enthusiast and maybe sort of a vaguely Jesusy bon vivant. But it’s not true.” When presented with the opportunity to say what I believe, I take it and I take it in all its glory.(4)
Like the church in Corinth, we are in need of doing the same. But not all of us can express ourselves like Ann Lamott.
Tom Long, preacher puts it like this: A common misunderstanding is to think that talking about faith means getting our belief system in place before we open our mouths. When we speak about our faith, we think what we are doing is finding the language to say what we already know. That is, we think we get our beliefs formulated in our minds and hearts, and then we search for the right words to capture what is already fixed and established.
But you know what. It’s more complex than that. We don’t just say things we already believe. On the contrary, saying things out loud is a part of how we come to believe. We talk our way toward belief, talk our way from tentative belief to firmer belief; talk our way toward believing more fully, more clearly, more deeply.(5)
There’s an old story about a disciple and his teacher, a story Paul would have liked.
“Where shall I find the words to speak to God?” the disciple asked.
“Right here,” the teacher said.
“God is here, right here? Then why can’t I see God?”
“Because you do not look nor listen.”
“But what should I listen for?”
“Nothing,” said the teacher. Just listen.”
“For anything your ears discern.”
“But must I discern in a special kind of way?”
“No, the ordinary way will do,” said the teacher.
“But I don’t always do things in the ordinary way.”
“No you don’t.”
“But why ever not,” said the student.”
“Because to speak to God, to discern God, you must be here, and you’re mostly always somewhere else.” (6)
For Paul, for the expression of faith to bloom we must be present to God. To see faith bloom in the next generation or in the next block—in the next country or the next zip code—it takes more than teaching values and ethics, more than shared language, more than clear ideas. (7) It takes being present and expressing our faith. We believe and so we speak.
This congregation probably doesn’t know how present you have been this week with a family we’re not seen in a long time.
On Tuesday we received a call from Maureen Llort. She had seen a small announcement in the paper that day about the death of Daniella Mottle. Daniella and her family had been part of our church for years. Her mom Karen was a church school teacher. Father Kent shuttled their kids from Pennington to fellowship. Daniella completed confirmation in 2005. Daniella was 22 years old, had just graduated from Rutgers, and was starting a job in Philadelphia.
She never woke up from sleep last Friday night. They don’t yet know why. Tuesday night, during the visitation at the funeral home, Daniella’s father showed me many of the mementos the family had brought to share with friends. There were favorite photos, sports trophies, and a collection of concert tickets. There was a high school and college graduation gown, and an assortment of ribbons won during horseback riding events. And there were six pair of her shoes: high tops, sneakers, jodhpurs, slippers. All the keepsakes told the story of a child, a girl, a young woman.
But there was one more thing I will never forget; something that told the bigger story. Over on the coffee table, set apart from the other items was a book, a small red book; it was Daniella’s Nassau Presbyterian Confirmation scrapbook. It was filled with photos; little puzzle pieces, letters from her confirmation teachers Marti Hazelrigg and Poppy Orendorff and notes from fellow students and church members. Zack Gilmore wrote: “Peace be with you Daniella.”
That small red book is a testimony.
It’s a testimony to God’s presence in the life of a girl who was loved by this church and more so loved by God.
We believe and so we speak,
because we know that the
one who raised the Lord Jesus
will raise us also with Jesus,
and will bring us with you
into his presence.
Yes, everything is for your sake,
Thanks be to God.
(1) 2 Corinthians, 4:13-15. But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture – “I believed, and so I spoke” – we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake,
so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
(2) Lynna Williams. “Personal Testimony,” in A Ghost at Heart’s Edge, eds. Susan Ito and Tina Cervin. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1999, 193-203.
(3) Thomas G. Long. Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004, 5.
(4) As told by Jana Childers in her sermon: “Saying Grace; Second Corinthians 4.” 30 Good Minutes at the Chicago Sunday Evening Club, Chicago, IL. Program #4421, February 25, 2000. www.csec.org.
(5) Long, 6.
(6) Adapted from a story by Mark Barger Elliott in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3. 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1. Eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, 115.
(7) Jana Childers.
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