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What Are You Gonna Say?


April 17, 2016

When you work in social enterprise people ask, “What’s your elevator speech?” The idea of an elevator speech freezes me up, and I think what a horrible idea it is to give a speech to a stranger anywhere. My elevator speech is awkward silence on too long a ride as I stare up at the numbers. There’s no motivation really to give a speech since everybody is just trying to get out of there. And, an elevator ride is never two minutes. It is always like two minutes even before it comes down and I’m thinking , “Come on, I just want this elevator ride to be over with.” What might be a better expression is, “What is your portico speech? What are you going to say when you are standing in those moments of great consequence and pressure? Speak it. What do you believe? And better yet, speak it plainly.

The season of Easter readings line up perfectly to help us imagine how do we live our faith. How do you? How do I? How do we? How do we live our faith? The first week after Easter it was—you have to see it. It is the story of Thomas saying, “I need to see the wounds myself; I need to experience this. I need to see it to live out my faith.” The next week, the answer was, “You have to feel it." You have to feel your heart burning and the desires that are in us to live into this beautiful truth of what resurrection looks like in our lives. This week it’s easy. Speak it. See it, feel it, and speak it. The lesson comes in the Acts of the Apostles where the consequences are dire. The authorities tell the apostles, if you have something to say, you need to say it. And in this 9th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus is at the portico, meaning he’s at the gate of the temple.

This Gospel places him exactly in the place where there was an attempted stoning of his life. And his disciples say to Jesus, “Speak your truth and speak it plainly.” Can you imagine? If we were put in that place our portico speech might start with something like: “Well, I don’t want to offend anyone. I think you get the gist.” There are all kinds of things you can say. But he said very plainly, “I have said it and said it. Unless you believe, it is hard for you to hear it. And you will never ever speak it as clearly as in the acts that you do. My acts testify to who I am and what it is I believe—watch me.”

What is it St. Francis said? “Preach the Gospel, whenever you can, use words if you have to.”

Bonhoeffer, that great saint who died executed by the Nazis at the end of World War II, said for scholars and disciples, “the Holy Trinity is Truth, Freedom, and Simplicity.” People wanting to know how to speak the faith in their life need truth, freedom, and simplicity. It’s a struggle for everyone. Everyone gets caught up in theological gymnastics and complicated dogma, in rhetoric that becomes hollow. We are all subject to it. So the call today is to remember simply—how do you speak your faith? Are you surprised by what comes up even as I ask that question? Are you inspired by it? Humbled by it? Scared of it? That’s your portico speech—what you say at the gate of the temple. That’s what we are called to remember today—how to speak our truth and to speak it plainly. AA gets it right on that beautiful 12-step journey. “Keep it simple,” it says. “Keep it simple.” Give your testament simply as a witness to courage and hope on the journey.

We have seen over the years in our community at Thistle Farms, when people complicate it, it can get it confused, you get lost. And there are horrible consequences to it. At Thistle Farms we try to keep it so simple--we start by lighting a candle. That simple act speaks volumes. What are the simple acts that keep you focused? What simple acts speak your truth? We have tried in the faith community I serve to keep it simple—to keep the corporal acts of mercy. We have them hanging on the wall, preach about them all the time, to try and get it simply right. We are following the corporal acts of mercy that have been with us since this Gospel was written: give drink to the thirsty, give food to the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, tend the sick, comfort the sorrowful, and bury the dead. That’s what we do and that is love preached most radically in words without judgment. That’s it. And so every week we say the St. Francis Prayer over and over again so that when you are asked to give that portico speech, you know it.

Truthfully in the end in our lives it needs to be simple.

The end of Bonhoeffer’s life was after he had been in prison for years. When all the stained glass was long gone, all the intricate patterns and all the deep, huge tomes of books on theology, he’s left with poetry. He writes about light and darkness and hope. Barth, one of the heroes that Bonhoeffer talks about and writes with, says at the end of his life when he is questioned, “What is it you believe, what is your portico speech?” he says, “Jesus loves me; this I know.” In the end it is pretty simple. Jesus says it over and over, “Love God, neighbor, and self.” So beautiful and so deep and it takes our lives to live into it. So as we live out our faith, remember the holy trinity: truth, freedom and simplicity….if you have use words.

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