1 Corinthians 9:16 NRSV
If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!
She wasn’t the most eloquent preacher I’ve ever heard.
But she was one of the most powerful...all 30 inches of her. I thought about her yesterday morning, as I was standing behind the altar, beginning the Great Thanksgiving. In fact, I mentioned her in my sermon, because the example she set was hard to forget, even after all these years.
It was 22 or 23 years ago that I met her, as I was standing behind another communion rail. My husband had invited a coworker and her family to come to worship at the church I then served (he’s good about that). They took him up on his offer on what happened to be a communion Sunday. The couple brought with them their 2&1/2 year old daughter, a spirited little blond haired, blue eyed sprite who had beamed smiles at me throughout the sermon. I confess, she captured my heart - and that was before she came to the altar.
When the time came to distribute the elements, her parents led her forward by the hand to the communion rail, and indicated to her that she should kneel down and hold out cupped hands.
She did as they directed, mimicking them action for action, as they each received a chunk of bread (remember Hawaiian Bread?!!) and dipped it into the cup. She popped a well-soaked morsel into her mouth, and chewed solemnly. She bowed her head for the dismissal. When everyone else rose to file back to their seats, she broke out of line, turned around to face me, and loudly and shrilly delivered her review of the holy meal: “Jesus feeds you good. I be back!” Needless to say, she brought down the house. Nobody knew whether to laugh or cry; I remember doing a little of both. A spontaneous and sincere witness like hers is impossible to resist.
Which is a good thing to remember when we hear Paul’s heartfelt cry, “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel.” Because Paul wasn’t just making a (very) personal statement; he was sharing it for a reason, and he certainly wasn’t addressing only religious professionals: all of us have an obligation to proclaim the gospel. It’s right there in our baptismal vows, the promise to profess our faith openly and to serve as Christ’s representatives in the world. Of course, there’s more than one way to proclaim the good news.
As St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”
Sometimes words do become necessary. But when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel, many of us seem almost allergic to evangelism. We’ll be happy to do pretty much anything else asked of us, but the prospect of using our words to speak about Jesus just..well, it leaves us...tongue tied. And yet, it need not be anything eloquent or elaborate. All it needs to be is honest and personal and real.
A couple of years ago, I heard a Centenarian refer to the experience of coming to the Table for Holy Communion as being like “a little taste of Heaven.” (Of course, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be, “a foretaste of glory divine.”) She had used those words in an attempt to describe Communion to someone who had never met Jesus, much less sat at his table. Just for the record, her witness worked. It bore fruit. Her friend visited on a Communion Sunday, and came to the Table. He said afterward that it was the best version of church he’d ever experienced (which is “I be back!” in Adult Speak.) And so he did...come back, that is; again and again. He’s now one of Centenary’s faithful. So never hesitate to share a personal witness as an invitation. “Woe to us if we do not proclaim the gospel” is only one side of the story; because Joy comes to us when we do.
As We Gather at Your Table
Gracious Spirit, help us summon
other guests to share that feast
where triumphant Love will welcome
those who had been last and least.
there no more will envy blind us
nor will pride our peace destroy,
as we join with saints sand angels
to repeat the sounding joy.
Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood