We heard two portions of scripture from the Acts of the Apostles – Acts 10: 34-43 and Acts 11: 19-26. In the first, Peter is speaking to Cornelius and his family and friends, telling them about Jesus. In the second, we hear how the same message had spread out beyond Palestine to Cyprus and to Antioch, which was in northern Syria, and towards modern day Turkey. The message I take from this is that it’s good to talk!
Word was getting out wider and further about Jesus, what he had done, what he had taught, what he said, who he was. Realisation was dawning that the gospel, the good news, was for everyone – not just the Jews. As Jesus had told his disciples – “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them”. Jesus was telling them don’t keep it to yourselves, tell everyone. It’s good to talk! The book of Acts is the big lift-off – the story of that happening, of that becoming a reality. It’s an inspiring read.
Spreading the word
And the telling went on and on. Despite opposition and persecution the word spread. Those who listened and heard took it in, believed and trusted what they were told – and most importantly passed it on. Which is how we today on Walmersley Road know about Jesus. We have been told the story. It has been passed on to us. We have listened, read, heard and now believe and trust in that word. So how are we doing in the “go out and tell” department?
Many of us, now in the 60, 70 + age group, grew up knowing about Jesus. The Christian faith was all around us – and not just because we attended church or Sunday School. It was around us at day school where we had daily Christian assembly. It still had a prominent profile in everyday living. There was a complacency as far as mission was concerned because of a general feeling that “everyone knew who Jesus was – and what he did.”
A different world
However, our children and grandchildren are growing up in a different world. Church attendance has declined dramatically. Sunday schools are not present in every church. Day schools do not have daily Christian assemblies and teaching in religious studies covers many faiths. Secularism is very active and opposes faith in the everyday. The whole landscape is different. If we who do know Jesus don’t speak of him, then who will?
Well, I hear many of us saying, I’m no preacher, public speaking isn’t my thing. I’m sure most of those spreading the news in Acts would have said the same but what they did was talk. They talked to their friends and neighbours, to those around them. They told the story as opportunity arose. And they were so full of the story they couldn’t help themselves. They had to tell somebody. It’s like Jeremiah in last week’s set reading (Jeremiah 20: 9) “If I say I will not mention him or speak any more in his name, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
Jesus chose a wide range of ordinary, everyday people to be his disciples. For the most part they passed on the message to similar people; who passed it on; who passed it on; and so on. We just need to be ordinary – and as opportunity occurs, tell our story. When you have a minute read and remind yourself of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). A chat whilst doing the daily chore of collecting water led to a whole village knowing about Jesus.
Many may say that faith is a private matter – we don’t talk about it. The problem there is that it could cause us to shrink back into ourselves and if we’re not talking we become the last generation to know the story, because we haven’t passed it on. Actions may well speak louder than words, and yes, how we behave, what we do, is a strong witness for our Christian values and belief. But maybe, when opportunities occur – and they will – we should feel able to say why we do what we do.
Being a mid-wife
Stephen Cottrell, soon to be Archbishop of York, has said that telling our story is a bit akin to being a mid-wife. In doing so, we are helping someone along. We don’t bring them to faith – like it’s not the mid-wife having the baby. We tell the story, we guide them along as needed, but we don’t need to do the pushing. God will do that!
Unfortunately the days of a joint show of force in the form of Whit walks around the community have gone. So, too, have the Marches for Jesus. These days we are more into social media and websites to spread our message. The Covid-19 shutdown has shown us into more new ways to connect with those outside our church walls. Worship via Zoom or You Tube have taken us into something few of us were even aware of, let alone using! Virtual, online churches, attract thousands of ‘attenders’. Jesus and those whose stories are told in Acts made use of all the communication methods available in their day – why don’t we do the same?
I wonder whether we Christians today do more listening than talking when it comes to matters of faith and the gospel. We attend church worship every Sunday and listen to the scripture readings, we listen to the sermon – but do we talk about what we have heard? Even over coffee immediately following the service, do we discuss those readings and the sermon? Do we go home and talk about what we have heard? From time to time we might cogitate over our belief, our doubts even, but do we talk about it? Maybe those things we really do consider a private matter.
Advent and Lent groups at our churches do give an opportunity to do some talking – at least among ourselves – which should be safe ground. Unfortunately those group meetings are attended by relatively few. Perhaps next time, this Advent, we could all encourage each other to attend… and talk!
We all have a story to tell. It’s the story of how Jesus has touched our lives; the story of how our belief in God shapes our lives; the story of what changed our lives for the better. Let’s not keep it to ourselves. It’s good to talk… after all we’ve got some good news to tell!
“It’s good to talk” was given by Nigel Silvester at our Sunday@Seven service which was Zoomed on Sunday 28th June.