The Blabbermouth EffectFebruary 12, 2012, 9:00 am & 11:15 am
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Order of Worship | Download
Not being sure if “Blabbermouth” was one or two words, I checked the dictionary; it is one. You see, we have two incidences of the blabbermouth effect at work in our lessons this morning. In checking the dictionary for how to spell it, I was struck with how the word has an almost universal negative connotation. The definitions run from gossip, to tattling, to indiscrete talk, to simply incessant loquaciousness. I don’t mean any of that. By “blabbermouth,” I mean someone so genuinely excited about something she simply cannot keep quiet, not unlike the conversations that took place last Monday about the Giant’s win at the Super Bowl. You had no trouble knowing who the Giant’s fans were last Monday! Their passion caused them to talk. In that vein, what caused the serving girl in the first lesson and the healed leper in the gospel to become blabbermouths?
The serving girl is only a minor character in the story, but notice: all that follows depends on her. She alone has the information that can save Naaman from his suffering. “If only my Lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Was it a casual aside in a conversation between a slave-girl and her mistress? Or was it a more overt attempt to come to Naaman’s aid? Either way, it had its effect. Naaman receives her words as good news, packs up an entourage and gifts worthy of a king, and heads south to Samaria to meet Elisha. But as the story unfolds, we see how expectations can deceive and even get in the way. Naaman’s own sense of self-importance and his expectation as to how his healing should take place almost do him in. On the other hand, the Galilean leper simply falls on his knees before Jesus, and says, in effect, “Lord, have mercy,” and Jesus does.
The stories have several levels of truth within them. The first and most important is that it is God who is at work behind all of this. Note that it is the Lord who has given Naaman his military victories, and Naaman doesn’t even know it. God’s gracious gifts are not limited to the people of Israel, nor simply to those we think worthy of them–God’s sovereignty is such that God often works through or with the outsider. Somehow, a servant girl captured as the spoil of war knows it. God may have made a covenant with Israel to be God’s people for God’s special purposes, but God’s love is not constrained to that covenant alone. God is without bounds or favorites.
The good news is not for the church alone. Is there a reason we treat it that way? We have been vested with it, entrusted to share it with the world. Why do we treat it as though it were ours alone? And why do we think we need to defend it rather than simply share it, especially among others who do accept or acknowledge it? You have heard me say this before: no one has ever been argued into the kingdom. Effective witness is not debating over theological fine points, or arguing for the superiority of Christianity to all other religions. It is, as the great Asian missionary-preacher D.T. Niles used to say, “One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” In fact, at one level, Christianity at its best is not a religion at all, if by religion, you mean a series of beliefs about God and resultant behaviors that attempt to appease or manipulate God for one’s own benefit. Christianity is, at its most basic level, a decision to follow Jesus–regardless of who we think he ultimately is–doing what he says in our lives and trusting him with them no matter what. Giving witness to that is simply a matter of speaking of your own experience–is your life worse or better for following him?
A second truth here is that God often works in and among us in ways that even we do not expect or understand. Every pastor comes to discover this or finally leaves ministry in despair. People come and go. No sooner do they seem equipped and ready to become more deeply involved, than their business moves them elsewhere or a personal or career decision takes them away. I was recently on the Princeton Seminary campus, and attended chapel for their weekly communion service, enjoying the opportunity to be in the pew and led by young, energetic, gifted students. Services in the chapel always end with the passing of the peace. Doing so, I made my way forward to the student leaders to speak a word of gratitude for their work. One young woman, who had been a lector in the service called me by name. She said, “You don’t know me. But, when I was in New York, trying to break into the theatre as an actress, I frequently worshipped at Madison Avenue. I loved it. Do you remember the sermon you preached about God’s call and that in God’s economy, nothing is ever wasted? I can’t tell you how helpful that was to me. I didn’t join,” she continued, “because my life was too scattered and unsure for that. But that time and sermon was crucial to the decision I finally made to come to seminary and prepare for ministry; thank you!” We gave each other a hug and went our own ways.
My point is this: you and I can never know how God is at work in another’s life through what we say or do. God is always at work in and through us in unexpected ways. Our initial witness may be met with silence, skepticism, even ridicule. I think about a voice teacher who regularly spoke of her own faith when counseling and encouraging her students. (It was a church-related college, so she could do that with impunity.) I think back on three of the five times God was trying to call me to ministry, and realize they were coming through the witness of friends and colleagues who were not particularly “religious,” but God was using them to speak to me in unexpected ways–so unexpected, in fact, that I missed it until the fifth time! But God keeps speaking in unexpected ways. Think of what would have happened had another witness, Naaman’s servant, not challenged Naaman to set aside his bruised ego, give up his pride and go dip in the Jordan. God is at work all the time in multiple ways to get done with and among us what needs to be done. This is one of the foundational convictions of Christian faith. Another is that we can never know the outcome of our witness. All we can do is trust God to continue to be at work through it, even if, at first, it is questioned or cast aside by the hearer.
But what about those people who are so on-fire about what has taken place in their lives that they simply cannot keep quiet? Had you been the leper, could you have kept your mouth shut even after Jesus himself had told you to do so? Jesus sternly warned him to say nothing to anyone. Rather, he was to simply show himself to the priest and make the sacrificial offering in thanksgiving for the “cleansing.” Jesus is not simply trying to shift the focus from himself to God, he is trying to stay out of the limelight. The crowds are now following him in droves, seeking his healing power and getting in the way of what he has come to do–announce the Gospel. He has come to proclaim the presence and power of God breaking into human life to heal it. He is calling people to entrust themselves to that. But the crowd is so caught up in his miracles that they are missing his message. In this case, the blabbermouth effect only works to further impede Jesus’ witness.
Sometimes, too ardent a witness, too certain a testimony, too much religious language, especially if it is offered with an air of superiority has the opposite effect. It inoculates people to the gospel and actually gets in the way of what God is doing in someone’s life. That was certainly the case with the leper in the Gospel lesson this morning and, I suspect, the case with that voice teacher witnessing to her students. The result was that Jesus could not enter a town without being besieged.
I sometimes wonder how much we have inoculated people to the gospel with our focus on insisting that a person’s experience with God match ours, or that an infant, emerging faith be shoved into a doctrinal box like our own. The gospel we have to proclaim is that God’s presence, love and power are present in Jesus, sovereign, and at work in ways we sometimes can see, but more often, ways we cannot see or expect, ways that often surprise us. Our job is to respond, follow, trust, and share that word with others. There is no one way to do that. It can be the aside of a serving girl. It can be the enthusiastic response of one who has been dramatically healed. Perhaps the reason we have such trouble being blabbermouths is that we have yet to fully realize just how dramatically we are being loved and cared for, and how much we have already been healed. Is your life better or worse for following Jesus?
The Word of the Lord; thanks be to God!
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