Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

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

Hashtag VIP?

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"VIP." Image by Gerard Girbes Berges via Flickr; licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


Here’s a headline that captured my attention:

Stop working on your personal brand—you’re wasting your time.1

The article promising a 2-minute read caught my attention. Granted it was a repost from 21 months ago—ancient in a time of instant access to global news. It was the kind of counter-intuitive headline that causes me to scratch my head, so I clicked.

The take-away for me centered on a couple of key ideas, the first about commitment and the other about contribution. How we use time actually exposes whether one labors on advertisement or accomplishment. Like titling a sermon, it can be time-consuming to come up with that cute, clever, captivating heading.

The author, Josh Spector, noted of all the things that can be done with thousands of hours of our time, developing a personal brand is not at the top of his list. He believes it is our work that defines us. More importantly, the author noted what marks our contribution to society is our performance and product. “Without the work, there is no brand. No matter what you say on social media or how many times you say it.” Not so novel an idea actually. To use the words recorded by James, [d]o you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all? (James 2:20, Common English Bible)

Reading the parable Luke records about accepting invitations, suggests that Jesus might also be less impressed with posturing than with performance (Luke 14:1, 7–14). In a more timeless example, Jesus expounds a proverb by talking about those who actually take positions of honor when invited to an event, in this case a wedding.

To this day, celebrations of marriage on the continent of Africa are major events. Who is invited and why they are included signals a respect for their relationship to the families. Closer to home, seating arrangements at receptions likewise speak volumes without a word being exchanged. The script might say “mom,” “dad,” “siblings,” but the persons seated are more than the title suggests.

When you think about it, we know how people make it to the coveted spot, right? It’s the relationship. The protocol that determines their place at the table is really about the person’s significance in our lives. We can miss that if we rush to the generated form that says who-goes-where by title alone. You know who should ask you to be their best man. It’s not a position you advertise for. Getting invited to the seat of honor is a result of others having witnessed something honorable in you. And the response to being selected is its own reward.

I get the feeling of rejection Jesus references also. It’s like getting unfollowed on Twitter by someone you thought had your back even when they disagreed with your position. And that’s the rub. How many of those who follow us like what we say because they haven’t or can’t observe our actions?

Being committed to acts of justice is not a hashtag, status update, or political affiliation. Your contribution to the community is what determines whether you are one to be honored for doing the work of the Lord. So, stop positioning yourself into the spot you want to be in. Just do you and see if others call your name among the faithful.

To paraphrase Spector:

  • Want to be known as a Christian? Show hospitality to strangers.
  • Want to be an influencer? Show mutual love.
  • Want to attract others? Show generosity even when it doesn’t seem to benefit you.

Some weeks it’s hard to write the sermon that matches the brilliance of the title I came up with six weeks earlier. (I hate when that happens!) But worse yet is the mismatch of positioning ourselves as wise, understanding, resilient, humble Christ-like person without practices of kindness, mercy, and righteousness.

This idea of what the Lord requires is not a placard held up at a rally or a hashtag post. This week’s text might beg for a sermon that is a home run in the midst of our cultural conversations, political posturing, and onslaught of disasters, whether local or global. Ignore the temptation to position it as such. Just take a swing that connects with the ongoing theme of God’s grace demonstrated in caring for others. Start at home; sometimes that’s truly the hardest place to practice integrity.

I know everyone is branding themselves. I’ve gotten on the bandwagon. But this article, like the parable recorded in Luke 14, reminds us: our identity is made evident by the contributions of our activity among and with others more than what we say we wish, want, or hope to do.

In the words of Parker Palmer: "Let your life speak."2 And remember, sometimes it’s really hard for people to hear what we say, because of what they are watching us do.

Joy


Notes:

  1. https://medium.com/an-idea-for-you/stop-working-on-your-personal-brand-youre-wasting-your-time-7b68f1971899
  2. Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999).
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