Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

No More Silence

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Vuvuzela and some of its many meanings
Creative Commons Image by Jimmy Baikovicius on Flickr.


“Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly.” Thank God. Literally. Bartimaeus won’t be told to shut up. Good for him. I like this guy.

Because, how often do we feel like we are required to keep silent? How often are we asked to keep our voices down, lest there is some offense that would cause a disruption in our very controlled and contrived world? Lest there be an utterance that might tear apart that which we’ve constructed to keep out what, or who, we don’t want to see, or hear, or acknowledge? Or, how often do we silence others, convinced that their cries for mercy are not worthy of God’s attention?

I get this. Why? Because this is what we do. We keep silent. We urge others to do the same. Speaking out? That’s risk. Stating your opinion? That is cause for rejection. Saying what you think is true about the Gospel? Get ready for rejection. But, as Jesus says, the truth will set you free (John 8:32). The reformers knew this truth. Truth quieted results in captivity. Truth silenced will end up in imprisonment. Truth shushed leads to bondage. At some point, at some time, someone needs to speak truth.

At the end of the day, there is only so much you can take. There is only so many times that someone can say, “be quiet” before you say “no. I cannot be quiet. I will not be silent. And don’t you dare try to silence me, to shut me up.” What is your breaking point? When will you find yourself standing with Bartimaeus, for the sake of Bartimaeus? When do you choose to come alongside another so that silence can be broken, so that truth can be told? When can you confess, “The Lord has done great things. The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced” (Psalm 126:2-3) even when others cannot? When have you needed to utter, because you cannot do otherwise, either for yourself or for your neighbor, “Save, O Lord, your people,” (Jeremiah 31:7) only to be muzzled, hushed?

I don’t know about you, but I am growing weary of biting my tongue. I am getting tired of self-censoring. I am impatient with the compulsion and coercion to perpetuate the system or systems that seem to demand my loyalty. I am less than pleased when I find myself making excuses, falling back on doctrine, or feeling that I have become beholden to a prescribed dogmatic default button so as to maintain the status quo, convince all others of my credentials, or make certain acceptable creedal statements when I believe in my heart that God is so much bigger than my utterings.

Yes, I know. There is only so much you can say. There are things you cannot say. Things you wish you could say. This is the truth of the call of a preacher. Of a pastor. It’s a hard place to live, to be, to work, isn’t it? It seems that you are always walking that very fine line -- the line between truth-telling and putting your hand over your mouth. That line between what you want to say and what you have to say. That line between knowing when the truth can be told and when the truth can’t be heard.

Yet we are called to proclaim the truth, when the truth will be rejected. We are called to preach the truth when no one wants to hear it. We are called to call out when those who need to cry cannot. I don’t know the truth you need to speak in your context. I don’t know the persons who need you to come alongside them and say, “It’s okay. Say it. Jesus, have mercy on me.” I don’t know those who need you to urge, “I want to hear your voice.” But I do know that Jesus would want us to say, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." Over and over and over again.

If there ever a time for bold witness, for bold proclamation, for bold statements of faith, this is it, or at least this is it for the Gospel of Mark and for Jesus. Why? Because the entry into Jerusalem is just around the corner. Because the time for safe speech and secure statements is over. Because our people need to hear what it sounds like when you say something on which your life depends. They don’t have to agree, but at least they then have a sense of the language, the tone, the urgency behind avowals that matter verses assertions that only serve the self or the world. They will have a sense of the passion, the immediacy, the resolve that lies behind what you say and what you do.

If our proclamation is just bland claims, where’s the truth of the Gospel? If our preaching is just standard, on-the-fence, mediocre, don’t-take-a-side, generic theology, then what is really at stake at the end of the day? If our witness is simply platitudes meant only to persuade, then why would Bartimaeus think he could ever, ever say, “Jesus, have mercy on me?”

The truth sets us all free to be free indeed.

Karoline

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