Yesterday my pastor, Delton Hand (you can catch him here on Twitter) preached in a style that a homiletics professor would call a “narrative sermon”. Most preachers do this on occasion, and there have been some whose pulpit career was built on narrative preaching. Essentially narrative preaching is exactly what it sounds like, it is the recounting of a story, usually from the life experience of the speaker, and points of instruction and application are drawn out through the course of the story. When it is done well it is a very engaging style of preaching, and to his credit Pastor Hand did it well yesterday.
The sermon hammered down on the idea that God puts us in certain places for specific reasons; these are “divine appointments”. God had done this in an unmistakable way earlier in (and throughout) the week with Pastor Hand. It is always an encouraging and convicting thing to come face to face with the fact that our moments are not dictated by random chance but by sovereign direction. We all need to be reminded of this, not merely to congratulate ourselves for the things that happened yesterday, but to heighten our awareness for the things that will happen today.
This morning the first chapter of John’s gospel seemed to drive this point home in a way that I had not thought of previously. John refers to Jesus as “the Word made flesh”, this is what we refer to in theology as the Incarnation. This expression can be seen accurately in many different ways, I don’t believe that a single interpretation can fully grasp the implications of “Word made flesh”. But, this morning, I was compelled by the fact that God had been making promises about Jesus since Genesis 3:15; basically from the beginning of time. So many foreshadowings, so many prophecies, so many promises, so many… The people of Israel (and the world) were waiting, watching, and hoping for the Savior whom God had said would come. And all of those “words”, in God’s time, came to life in Mary’s baby in that Bethlehem dugout. The Christmas hymn says it this way, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight”.
We talk a lot in the church about being used by God, and being led by God, and listening for God’s voice. I don’t think there is any shortage of of talk about wanting to be in the will of God or our desire to walk with God. The problem, it seems, is not that we don’t have the words, it’s that we don’t have nearly enough flesh. We come to the very edge of moments that seem to be God-ordained and we are reluctant to take the next step, the step that would catapult us into those divine moments. Words are good, but if they never become tangible then they can create a worse fate than if they had never been spoken. You see promises never made lead to a lack of hope, but promises never fulfilled lead to a jaded and cynical view of life. Friends, the latter is much more deadly to the spiritual life than the former.
This week we will all find ourselves in situations that we have talked about for years. We will be in a conversation with a lost friend, a dying relative, a hurting co-worker, or a worried spouse; and in that moment we will decide whether our words will remain words, or whether they will become flesh. Will we reach out hands of compassion and love, despite the potential consequences that vulnerability brings, or will we continue to talk? Paul, talking to the Corinthian church said that we are to be “living letters” (2 Corinthians 3:3). I’ve always pictured this verse, in my mind, as less of a postcard and more of a singing telegram where the messenger literally becomes the message.
Words are good things. They articulate ideas, thoughts, and emotions in meaningful ways. As wonderful as it first sounds, I do not agree with the expression “preach the gospel, when necessary use words” (this quote, incidentally, is attributed to St Francis of Assisi, and yet there is no record of him ever having said anything of the sort, it seems to be a pervasive misquote that has been accepted without scrutiny). Without these “words”, that this quote seems to make subservient to actions, there is no hope. Without the promises and the good intentions there is only surprise; but surprise is not the gospel. The Gospel message is one of fulfilled promises, seized opportunities, and loving action. The Gospel is not about being shocked by a good thing, it’s about being saved by the promised One.
Friends, I challenge us all to live in the incarnational way that Jesus did. May our words be full of hope and grace, and may those words become flesh in the divinely ordained moments that God leads us to. Don’t miss an opportunity to let your language come to life.