MOUSEY MOMENT … THE SILENT SERMON
Log burners are all the rage in the modern home. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sitting in front of an open fire, enjoying the warmth of its glow & the light of its flames. The fireplace is our tiny sun for the evening, casting long shadows over the rug. The flames curl and sway, flicking this way and that, crackling as they burn the dry wood. It’s so good to feel their warmth at last, especially at this time of the year when it’s cold & gloomy outside. We can watch in hypnotized joy, holding our hands out to get just a little more of the gentle heat.
So here’s a tale to warm the cockles of your heart!
A member of a certain church who had previously been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the minister decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The minister found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for the minister’s visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace & waited. The minister made himself at home but said nothing. In silence he contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs. After some minutes the minister took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a bright ember & placed it to one side of the hearth all alone, then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet contemplation. As the ember’s flame flickered & diminished, there was a momentary glow & then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold & dead. Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. The minister glanced at his watch & realised it was time to go. He slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember & placed it back into the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light & warmth of the burning coals around it. As the minister reached the door to leave, his host said with a tear running down his cheek, “Thank you so much for your visit & especially for the fiery sermon – I will be back in church next week.”
We live in a world today which tries to say too much with too little. Consequently few listen & fewer take notice. Sometimes the best sermons are the ones left unspoken.
For most people, speech is a very important component of life. Most of the time, when we communicate, we do it verbally. The crucial role that spoken and written words play in interpersonal relations should never be underestimated. Several passages from the Bible teach that words should be carefully weighed before spoken. The psalmist, for example, once prayed, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141 v3), while Jesus warned “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12 v37). In Bible times, people perceived words to be agents capable of creating realities, both positive and negative, leading either to life or death.
Christians are traditionally known to be a “people of the Book.” That Book, the Bible, can also be described as a sacred library because it contains 66 books. These books, full of words, communicate the basic message of Scripture through words. After all, Romans 10 v17 states that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
However important verbal communication is, our story points to the importance of non-verbal ways in which God’s message can be communicated. Silent ways of preaching have often been neglected in Christian life and witness. Why does the use and overuse of words so often eclipse non-verbal ways of communicating God’s love? How can we talk about the good news silently and still be God’s effective witnesses?
Following are three people from the Bible who witnessed for God even though their words were not recorded in biblical accounts of their lives. In other words, these people were powerful preachers, although their sermons were silent. Their stories illustrate the fact that in order to be an effective witness for God, one does not necessarily have to use words. Truly, their actions spoke louder than words.
Early in the Bible we meet Abel the shepherd. This man is not introduced as someone trained in public speaking. The text from Genesis 4 v2-4 simply states that at a time designated for worship, Adam and Eve’s firstborn son Abel presented himself before God and brought an offering to Him. In contrast to his brother Cain, who merely brought some of the fruits of the soil from his field, Abel presented to the Lord an offering that consisted of fat portions from the firstborn of his flock. In the culture of Bible times, where people offered sacrifices, this was considered to be the best type of gift to God. Although the mention of a sacrificial animal presented by Abel is important in this context, at this time another detail in the story merits our attention. The writer of Genesis carefully points out that the Lord looked at Abel first, and then at his sacrifice. The state of Abel’s heart mattered to the Lord far more than the gift that he had brought. For this reason, the Bible teaches that God does not judge us by our appearances or by offerings we bring, but He first of all looks into our hearts. What did God see in Abel’s heart? He most likely saw an attitude of gratitude and his readiness to obey and serve his Creator and Lord.
If we were to express in words the message that Abel delivered at that worship service, what would it be? Abel did not try to hide his heart behind his offering because he knew that nothing can be hidden from God’s eyes. Abel’s witness contains a powerful testimony that shows what God is like, yet according to the biblical record his witness was delivered in a silent, noiseless, speechless manner. Abel’s story teaches that God looks at the worshipper before He considers the gifts that are brought to Him. In other words, worshippers matter to God far more than the presents that they bring.
The opening chapters of the New Testament tell the story of how Jesus was born. His mother, Mary, played a key role in the events that resulted in the birth of the Saviour of the world. For that reason many, even today, revere her. However, we often neglect the role of Joseph, who was Jesus’ other earthly parent. One wonders if this neglect may be due to the fact that his words are nowhere found recorded in the Gospels.
Although not a single word of Joseph can be found in the pages of the Bible, that does not mean that he did not effectively witness for God. Much like Abel, the shepherd, Joseph, the carpenter, had no training in speech-giving, yet he delivered his silent sermon in a powerful way. Chapters 1 and 2 of Matthew inform us that on no less than three occasions an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and gave him clear instructions on how to ensure that Jesus’ birth and childhood would be safe and sound. In all three cases, the inspired writer claims that Joseph did not question divine instructions but rather fully obeyed them.
If the message that Joseph silently delivered through his actions were to be expressed in words, it would go something like this: We should trust God even when we do not fully understand His plans for us. Although we may not see the final outcome of our acts of faith, God’s Word assures us that the Lord’s plans for us are intended to give us hope and a future. For that reason we are summoned to trust in God under all circumstances.
One such effect on Jesus’ life can be deduced from Luke 2 v51: “Then he [Jesus] went down to Nazareth with them [His parents] and was obedient to them.” Possibly Jesus’ attitude of obedience came in response to Joseph’s trust in his heavenly Father. In this case, the saying “like father, like son” proves to be true and serves as a positive example for us to follow by obeying Him who said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6 v38).
The art of delivering silent sermons according to the Bible can be mustered by both genders. Acts 9 introduces one such preacher known as Dorcas, or Tabitha. Her vocation was tailoring, yet that did not prevent her from witnessing for her God. On the contrary, she used that type of work to the glory of her Saviour and for the blessing of others. In Acts 9 v36-41 we read that Dorcas made clothes for many needy people. Her heart went out, especially to the poor, and her hands provided for their needs. She knew who needed comfortable clothing and who needed sympathy, and she freely ministered to the poor and the sorrowful. Her skilful fingers were more active than her tongue.
Dorcas may have never have had the privilege of speaking from the pulpit, but her way of witnessing was quieter than the sound of words. Helping the needy communicated God’s love in the very best way. These acts of kindness testify that a gracious God abides in heaven. We have a great privilege to be God’s hands and feet, and that is equally as helpful as being His mouth. The book of Acts does not remain wordless as to the effects that Dorcas’ silent witness had on the believers of her time. Chapter 11 says that when a severe famine later threatened the lives of God’s children in Judea, “the disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea” (Acts 11 v29). Indeed, Dorcas’ spirit of generosity was contagious, and it spread among the believers then, while even today her story can move hearts.
And now for a modern example. Albert Schweitzer was born during the last century in Alsace, France. Both his father and grandfather were pastors. Having earned his doctorate in theology at the age of 27, he became an accomplished professor and writer. Later, at the age of 30, he was known throughout Europe as an excellent organist and organ engineer. Who would not covet such a brilliant career in academics and art? Then came a turning point in Schweitzer’s life. Having studied the life of Christ, a strong desire was born in his heart to follow Jesus’ example. When he was 39, he went to the country of Gabon in Africa, where he built a hospital and served as medical missionary until the age of 90. In 1953 he received the Nobel Peace Prize and donated that money to help lepers in Africa. No doubt Schweitzer, the physician, was another silent preacher.
What Abel the shepherd, Joseph the carpenter, Dorcas the seamstress, and Schweitzer the physician all had in common was that they learned in life how to witness for God without using words. Wouldn’t you say that today the world needs more of such silent sermons? Indeed, in this way, every believer can be a preacher of the good news of God’s kingdom.
Live out your faith, & remember actions speak louder than words!