(Here is the sermonette I delivered today. Well, it's a text written from my notes and from my memory of what I said. I don't write them all out, and I don't have a recording to tell me what I actually did say. So it's a hybrid thing.)
In lists of Americans’ fears, public speaking beats out even death. There’s always the fear of great embarrassment. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I speak too quickly or too slowly? Or what if there’s a bit of spinach in my teeth? There’s the worry that death will be the only remedy from the public embarrassment from a bad speech.
And the clergy speak week after week, and they speak about things important, things holy. The burden’s greater; they somehow must preach the Gospel in a way that it finds meaning and a location in our lives. Some have the gift of eloquence to help them in this sacred task.
Today I stand trying to do the same thing, and on the feast of St. John Chrysostom, no less, and I have not had classes of homiletics and years of seminary education! Now there’s pressure: preaching on the feast day of a guy who’s name means “Golden mouthed” because he was so renowned and beloved a preacher. Eloquence is a gift that so few have, and so few can stand ready to preach the Gospel!
Without this ready gift of beautiful speech, how can we rise to the task of proclaiming the Gospel in our own day? What do we do when called upon to defend the Gospel from those who would decry it as a political tool of fear and hate? What do we do in that critical moment when someone near us is hurting and needs to hear the healing words of the Gospel? What do we do in that critical moment when the gospel and Christ need to be heard and understood today?
Like Jeremiah, we can’t just say, “I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” We may not have the classes of homiletics or years of seminary to prepare us, but we have no excuse in those critical moments; we have to be the presence of Christ to a world in need. We can’t wait for someone else with better training to come along; we’re it! We may be ill-prepared and afraid, but by our baptism we are called to do such work, to proclaim the Gospel of healing to a world in need of healing.
We may want to turn to God and say, “Choose someone else, God, but not me. I’m not smart enough, and I can’t speak very well.” Just like Moses, we may beg and plead with God to send someone else. And in Moses’ case, God did send someone else to speak, Moses’ brother, Aaron. But God also gave Moses a staff with which to give signs and wonders to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. He gave Moses the staff which turned into a snake and back again, the staff which turned waters into blood and called down the plagues upon Egypt. Aaron may have spoken the words, but the deeds were from Moses.
And so we as Christians are given signs and wonders and miracles to show the power of God, but instead of plagues we are given the power to bless and to heal. The wonders and miracles may seem ordinary, but they are miracles because God is with them. God is in our blessing and in our working for the poor and downtrodden and in our caring for one another. We may not have the Gospel pour forth from our lips but it pours forth from our hands as we work and love. It is seen in our loving, grace-filled acts, and that is our greatest preaching.