“What to say”
July 8, 2012
by Robin Wardlaw
Pentecost 6, Year B
Readings: (2 Samuel 5:1–5, 9–10); Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:3–10; Mark 6:6b–13
What to say? The first thing I can say is Thank you. Thank you for your confidence that I have some part to play in your exciting ministry here in the heart of East York, in this wonderful and wounded world. What to say to Rev. Jong Bok Kim for the strong and gentle leadership he has given? You’ve already said Thank you, and Goodbye. You may find yourself discovering more reasons to say thank you to God for him months or years from now. Why? Because the spiritual growing you’ve been doing with him may continue to reveal possibilities for this community of faith over time. What to say to the new minister? Relax on that one. You’ve already said it with your warm welcome last Sunday. But if there are other things you need to say, please tell me. I want to know what’s in your heart.
What to say to our neighbours here, or those who walk in the door of a church, possibly hurting, possibly seeking? What to say as a community of faith to very poor people? To very rich people? What to say to those taking a pounding from increasingly wild weather, or from their own governments? To the Bashar al-Assads of this world, people who seem capable of great cruelty? Wouldn’t we love to know what to say.
The story we heard about Jesus sending out the disciples in pairs on a short internship to work on their skills as bearers of the good news comes right after the curious incident in Nazareth where people reject his message and toss him out of town because he seemed uppity to them. Jesus doesn’t seem to know what to say to his former neighbours. If you were there when he was getting a rough reception from the hometown crowd, what might you say to people? Would you sing them Joni Mitchell’s refrain, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone?” What do we say to people whose minds are all made up, who can’t change even with the evidence of their eyes?
Maybe this scare at Nazareth helps Jesus make up his mind: this movement for the reign of peace and justice can’t depend on me, on just one person. I need to equip the others to carry on. You notice the gospel skims over what preparation the disciples had as they went out on their internships. Jesus gives them authority over demonic forces, according to Mark. Then what? Did they have to present to one another as practice? Did they go away by themselves to work it out?
If Jesus were sending us out into the world to tell good news the way he sent those first disciples, what would we say? When you think about it, that is exactly the challenge we all have. We do things because of our faith, many things. We hope others will notice our acts of service, the times we forgive or forebear, the way we work and pray to build a circle of love and acceptance here. But we can speak, too, as scary as that might be. “Use your words,” we used to say to our children when they were young and giving evidence of their strong feelings non-verbally.
It’s just as well the bible doesn’t say exactly what instructions Jesus gave the disciples away back when, if any. We get to figure out for ourselves what to say about the faith and hope that are within us, what kind of practice we need to find our voice. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, that might the last thing we want. Paul, talking to the tiny congregation in Corinth about his painful chronic disability, says, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” He has prayed and prayed to be freed from his ailment, and in response he hears this powerful assurance instead, the one we all wait to hear: “My grace is all you need.”
Doing the gospel is so important, and beautiful. Let’s keep doing it here. And these days we need to be able to use our words, too, to account for what it is that brings us here, keeps us doing the gospel here, sends us out into the world with holy love burning inside us. Or if the flame of love is burning a little low these days for us, how this community helps us tend the flame within, and nurse us back to strength. What to say, and how to say it. Because others in this neighbourhood, this community need and want what you have–what you have worked for, and been given–here. Our calling is to go out to confront that which is oppressing people, to tell good news about the peace bringer, the hope giver, the liberator we call the Living Word.
Let me end with some words, a very few words, from Shirdi Sai Baba about speaking. Sai Baba was a holy man in the town of Shirdi, in the Indian state of Maharashtra. He was famous during his life, and remains a very popular saint for Hindus, Muslims and other faiths. He had no love for perishable things and his sole concern was self‑realization. He taught a moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace, and devotion to God and guru. Sai Baba's teaching combined elements of Hinduism and Islam.
Sai Baba is really an affectionate nickname. We don’t know his real name, his birthplace and his birthdate. He was probably born in the 1830s, and he died in 1918. Sai can mean “holy” or “poor,” so Sai Baba can mean "holy father", "saintly father" or even "poor old man".As we continually decide what to say, together or separately, we could do well to follow his four short criteria. You may know them already: “Before speaking, ask yourself: Is it kind? Is it necessary? It is true? Does it improve upon the silence?”