Actions Speak Louder than Words

Actions Speak Louder than Words
A sermon by Pastor Teddie McConnell for May 8, 2022
Sermon for May 8th, 2022            Actions Speak Louder than Words
          Jesus was walking in the temple during the festival of Dedication, also known as Hanukkah, which recalls how God reclaimed Jerusalem through the Maccabean revolt and the joyful rededication of the temple. The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked, with a mixture of curiosity and irritation, whether or not he was the Messiah, a loaded question. Some of them may have been genuinely curious. Others might have been trying to set him up for persecution, reminded by the holiday of the potential for rebellion and afraid the Romans would come after them. They couldn’t understand why Jesus didn’t fit into any of their previous categories of prophets, rabble rousers, or nut cases. They felt the need to put this unique peg into a standard hole so they could dismiss him. Jesus responded that his actions spoke for themselves. Wesley White quotes Popeye the Savior, who says, “I yam what I yam, and I does what I does.”
          In Luke 7, the disciples of John came to Jesus with a similar question, saying, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”  Out of the six things Jesus mentioned, five were actions. He let his actions speak for themselves. Actions can speak louder than words.
          Jesus went on to tell the Jewish leaders that the sheep of his fold hear his voice and follow him. It is this combination of listening to Jesus and taking obedient action that binds the sheep of Jesus’ fold to him. It does no good to listen to Jesus by reading your Bible and going to church if it doesn’t change your heart and then your behavior. Our actions should reflect the values of our holy and loving God.
          Jesus also told the Jewish leaders that they personally could not believe him, because they didn’t belong to his flock. Some have looked at this verse as a statement that not everyone can become a Christian. Some have seen his response as an excuse for anti-Semitism. But Jesus himself was a Jew, and some Jewish leaders became his followers. These particular men had agendas that got in the way of their belief. They were more like foxes than sheep.
          The things of God are complex, often beyond our understanding as mere human beings. We must each make our own personal journey and experience the living God in our own way. God holds us in loving hands and gives us the choice to believe or not to believe. To force our belief and obedience would turn us into little robots, not members of God’s family who love him back of our own free will.
          The Gospels record many of Jesus’ words. They also record plenty of his mighty deeds and miracles. His words reflected his Jewish heritage and his study of the Torah as well as his wisdom from God. His actions reflected God’s loving character as well as God’s fulfillment of an ancient plan for the Messiah to deliver the people by paying the price for their sin and being a perfect example of what love looks like, what love does. If all Jesus did was talk about God, he’d have been just another rabbi from a small town, and we never would have heard of him. Jesus went, Jesus touched, Jesus healed, Jesus fed, Jesus forgave, Jesus suffered and died, and Jesus rose.
          When Jesus went on to tell his questioners, ‘I and the Father are one’ the word ONE doesn’t have gender. He wasn’t saying they are one person; he was saying they are UNITED in the work they do. It’s like the modern expression, “We are one in this.” Jesus and God have a common purpose: to love us and to teach us how to love each other.
          In the story from Acts for today, Tabitha was a disciple. This is the only time in the Gospels that an author used the feminine form of the word “disciple.” If anyone tries to tell you it’s not biblical for women to lead, show them this verse in the original Greek. The fact that her name is listed as both Tabitha, which is Aramaic and Dorcas, which is Greek, suggests that she was widely known for her good works. She was a female leader in a time when women were devalued and kept from holding positions of authority. Early Christianity pioneered equal rights for all, regardless of gender, race, or social status, something we still strive toward.
          Tabitha headed a support system for widows, who in the first century were among the poorest of the poor, on the margins of society with no one to protect or provide for them. They were too busy trying to survive to think about theology. Tabitha’s death was a major crisis for the whole community, leading them to send two of their men to ask Peter to return with them immediately. They counted on the apostle to bring God’s power to bear on their behalf. Luke doesn’t tell us what they said to Peter, if anything. Their hearts were broken. They didn’t know what to say or ask for. So they silently counted on God to be present and work however God willed. Peter put everyone out of the room, then knelt and prayed. When he felt the power of the Holy Spirit working, he told Tabitha to get up. She came alive, and he helped her to stand.
The Christian life is a balance between prayer and action. First Peter traveled to Joppa to see what was happening. He prayed, then he acted as the conduit for her resurrection. The sermon title, “actions speak louder than words,” refers to Jesus’ response to being asked whether he was, indeed, the Messiah. Like many wise teachers, he turned their question around and told them to think about what they had observed, what they had seen him do. To have simply said, “Yes, I am the Messiah,” would not have convinced them. In fact, it would have given them ammunition in their attempts to silence him. Skeptics don’t believe mere words.
          Words do matter, and can make a difference for good or for ill. But if you want people to believe that you mean what you say and say what you mean, you have to make your actions match your words. It’s called integrity. It’s called being one of Jesus’ sheep and following his example.
          So let’s consider this church and all its God-given resources. Whose work, if lost, would we be desperate to resurrect? Who are the Tabithas in our midst? Whose work keeps our congregation alive and well? If we can’t act with their energy or skills, are we giving them the love, the help, the support, and the appreciation they need to keep going?
          The church isn’t just about giving to the community, although that’s vital. Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” That means the community of believers as well. We’re all his sheep. It’s not just about physical needs for food, clothing and shelter. It’s about all the aspects of human life that make it worth living, the tapestry of loving kindness to which we contribute for each other’s vision of Jesus. How do we help each other feel valued, cherished, and appreciated? How do we nurture each other like most mothers nurture their children?
          By the way, because today is Mother’s Day, I want to reach out to any of you who may not feel like honoring your own mother today.  I know not all mothers are as caring as the greeting cards and commercials portray them, as we would have liked them to be. I get that. I’ve had to forgive my mother for some bad stuff, myself. In the summer of 1998, my late husband, Tom, and I were engaged. We went to visit my parents in Arkansas, who had an electrical and plumbing business. They offered us jobs in their company, and we accepted. We married in November, packed up our things, sold our house, and moved 800 miles. Three months later, they told us that Tom wasn’t working out and “laid him off.” We scrambled to find other jobs, and didn’t speak to my parents for two years. Finally, I felt that God was telling me to mend fences with them, so I did. Forgiveness began, but it took much time and prayer.
          Perhaps today would be a good day to sit down with a piece of paper and write down any hurts that this holiday brings up for you. Write until you can’t write any more. Ask God to help you forgive those hurts. Then destroy the piece of paper, tear it up or even burn it. God wants to give you freedom from the past. It can be a form of resurrection.
          Talking about resurrection brings me back to this church, to St. Andrew. This church has been through a lot in the last several years. You’ve lost members, you’ve lost pastors, you’ve lost faith in the powers that be. Since you hired me, I’ve talked about God wanting to do a new thing. I’ve talked about the need for you to grieve over what this church used to be, then be ready to do God’s new thing. I’m going to keep talking about it unless and until you tell me you’re giving up. Even then, I won’t quit. I’m in this with you. I’ll give you all the help I can. It’s time for a resurrection for St. Andrew. It’s time to rise up, to remember why we’re here and who we serve. It’s time to pray and to act in the service of the best cause there is – feeding Jesus’ sheep – because he loves us. Because we’re grateful for the gift of Jesus and eternal life.
          It’s okay to feel a bit sheepish about all this. After all, we’re Jesus’ sheep! But God is still holding St. Andrew, all of us plus whoever God sees fit to bring to worship and work with us, in God’s mighty hand and will not ever let us go. Jesus said that no one will ever snatch us out of his hand, or out of God’s hands. Let’s resurrect the hope for a bright future. We serve an Easter God, the God of resurrection. With our God, all things are possible. And all God’s people said, Amen.

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