Act Before You Speak

Rev. Wendy Witt

April 26, 2015

“Little children let us not love with words or speech but with actions and truth.”

Last week, Rev. McCoy challenged us to witness to our faith. He said: If we believe in Christ, if we believe in the resurrection, if our faith has made a difference in our lives, then we need to give witness to that reality.

Can we agree that we need to witness to our faith? That witnessing is part of our calling and vocation as Christians?

So while the call to witness is universal, HOW we do that will differ for each of us. Some of us will sing our witness. If you were at the farewell celebration for Rev. Tiebout last Sunday, you know how powerful it is when she sings her witness. Some of us will pray our witness. Some of us will preach our witness. Again, we each have individual ways that we witness to our faith.

But ALL OF US are called to LIVE OUR WITNESS. As Jesus tells us we are not to put our light, our faith, under a bushel. We are to LIVE it. Live it out in the open. Live it with boldness. Live it so that others will see it. We witness to our faith by the way we live our lives.

When we in the church talk about witnessing to our faith, or worse about evangelism, people get nervous. We immediately begin to think of knocking on our neighbors doors asking them if they know Jesus Christ as Lord Savior, then handing them some literature, and inviting them to join us for worship. That rarely works. If we get them to open their doors, they politely listen. They may take the literature. Then they close the door, put the paper on a table (at best) or in the trash, and get on with their day and lives. Our “witness” produced no interest, much less fruit.

Sometimes, I know it does. We hit someone at just the right time and our words do take root and begin to grow in their hearts and minds, but that is rare. And usually when it is effective, it is because we know the person to whom we are talking, we know something about their lives, what they are dealing and struggling with, and we can help them to see how faith and being part of a faith community can help them and see them through.

This kind of witnessing comes from living day in and day out with our neighbors, our coworkers, our peers, our friends, and getting to know them in a real way. It is then, and I would hazard to say, only then, that we have the right to speak to them of our faith and how we believe it can make a difference in their lives. We have to have a personal relationship with them first. Act before you speak.

We are told in today’s lessons that we are to LIVE our faith. That our actions are our greatest witness to our faith. How we live our lives will in the end say much more about the depth of our faith and our commitment to live as a disciple of the Christ than our words alone will ever say.  We are to live our lives in such a way that others, watching us, watching how we prioritize our time, our money, our energy, will see that something is different about the choices we make and will be curious about why we do what we do. So let me pose some questions you might hear based on some of the ministries here at the Temple.

People will notice and they will ask:

  • Why do you go to church every Friday and get up early on Saturdays to feed the homeless?
  • Why do you dedicate so much of your time to working    with children and youth to create a safe environment in which they can explore the intersections of faith and their lives?
  • Why do you go for a week to get training to help those who are grieving, sick, or are homebound?
  • Why do you go to church every Sunday and stay for the whole morning?
  • Why do you fight for full inclusion and protection of ALL people in the life of the church and society?
  • Why do you join the marches and rallies demanding justice?
  • Why do you go to City Hall, Springfield or DC to meet with your legislators?
  • Why do you care so much about what happens to the poor, you’re doing fine?
  • Why do you care about gun violence, you don’t live in those neighborhoods?
  • Why do you care about schools and mental health clinics, centers being closed, and social services being cut? Why do you see this as a moral issue?
  • Why do you care about a livable wage or equal pay for equal work?
  • Why do you care . . .?

Or on a less “church-y” level:

How does your faith impact the work that you do every day, the issues that tug at you and compel you to take a stand and work for change? How does your faith impact your marriage? Your parenting? Where you choose to live and with whom you choose to relate? Every decision we make about how we live our lives and order our priorities should be impacted by our faith. And if they are, again someone will sure ask: Why do you do what you do?

Once they ask, they have given us permission to witness to our faith with words as well as with actions. But the actions have to come before the words. If we are not living our faith with boldness and conviction, if our faith doesn’t make a difference in the way we actually live our lives, the choices we make, and the actions we take, then we really have no right to witness to our so-called faith with our words. Action must proceed words.

Look, this may come as a surprise to some of you, but I don’t do the work of justice I do because it is fun, it isn’t, or at least not most of the time; or because it comes easily or naturally for me, it doesn’t. I do the work I do because my faith compels to do it. I have no choice. Honestly, there are days, or even longer periods, when I am tempted to take the easy way ~ to do those things that make me people like me and to see me as a nice, caring, and compassionate person. I hope I am all those things.

Every time I tempted to take the easy way, God prods me and my faith convicts me. But know this, I do the work of justice because I care about people, because I am compassionate, when I see someone being hurt, treated unjustly or unfairly, being oppressed and victimized by the system, when I see a person or a group of people being left out and left behind, my heart breaks but it is my faith that compels me to do something about it. Faith leads me to action. And I always try to act on my faith before I dare to speak on or of my faith.

This is exactly the message of our epistle lesson today.

According to John, and I would add Jesus, to love in word or speech alone is really not love at all. It is meaningless to speak of love devoid of actions that demonstrate that love in real and concrete ways.

We know this from our own relationships with our spouses or partners, our parents, our children, don’t we? Genuine love demands a willingness to act on that love.

And not just in ways that are easy and comfortable. Our faith when lived, when it is at the very core of who we are and how we act, should challenge and stretch us. We should be different, we should live differently because we choose to act intentionally and deliberately in keeping with the dictates of our faith.

When all is said and done, when we have done the best we could and our time here on earth is done, it is not the words that we have spoken but the actions we have taken, the lives that we have led that will be our most lasting legacy and that will be our most powerful witness.

I read somewhere recently that what matters to God is not how many people come to church on Sunday but how many people act differently because they have been here. By how many people have been so convicted by their faith that they actually live differently, take actions they would not have taken the week before, prioritize the use of their time, their money, their energy, their resources because God has laid claim to their lives.

So . . . What are you going to do differently this week because you have been here, because you want to witness to your faith not with mere words but with actions that transform, heal, liberate, and make whole that which is broken?

The Epistle of James states: Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.  Don’t let your faith be a dead faith. Put your faith into action and live it with boldness and conviction.

Amen!