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Good sermons even better when seen, not heard


By Jeanette Martino Land


A volunteer hands food to a victim of Hurricane Maria Oct. 21 in Utuato, Puerto Rico. “A missionary is anyone — you, me — who goes to someone in need and shows him or her the face of Christ,” writes Jeanette Martino Land. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

That’s right, “Have you seen a good sermon lately?” Granted, you may have heard many good sermons, only to discover that there often have been discrepancies between the “warm fuzzies” resounding from the pulpit and the “cold frizzies” of the real world.

What is a good sermon? An old adage states, “The best sermons we ever preach are the ways we choose to live our lives.” Actions speak louder than words, and we are called to practice what we preach.

A missionary is not just someone who goes to a foreign land to preach the Good News. A missionary is anyone — you, me — who goes to someone in need and shows him or her the face of Christ. As Pope Francis said at World Youth Day, “Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: He sends us to everyone.” Pope Francis is “a sermon” par excellence: he practices what he preaches.

Just look to Jesus, who is our model and teacher. Some of his best sermons were delivered in silence to a watchful, often hostile, audience.

For example, in John 8:3, the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. The Law of Moses called for her to be stoned to death. The Pharisees, wanting to trap Jesus, asked him, “Now, what do you say?” Before speaking, Jesus “bent over and wrote on the ground with his finger.” Their questions persisted. Jesus finally answered, “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.” Then, Jesus bent over gain and continued writing on the ground.

Jesus made another strong and silent statement by eating with tax collectors and other outcasts (Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 2:13-17, Luke 5:27-32). When the Pharisees and teachers of the Law observed this, they complained to the disciples. Jesus’ response was, “I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus, knowing of Judas’ coming betrayal that would culminate in his passion and death, before speaking, rises from the table, pours water into a washbasin and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. Without saying a word he has set a powerful example of servanthood for his followers (John 13:4).

In all of these instances, Jesus’ actions were effective visual sermons.

How like Jesus are you? Are your words usually superseded by actions? Do you show (not just tell) others that the Good News really does make a difference in your life? Since it is not possible to physically see the Lord, except in one another, do you let others see the Lord is alive in you? How can you do this?

Jesus is our guide. He paid attention to what was important to others and took time to physically touch them. His words were powerful, but it was his touch that healed. To a hurting brother or sister in Christ, the love of God felt through the touch of your hand, can comfort or heal more than any spoken words. People may forget whatever words you’ve said, but they will remember the acts of comfort you performed.

One of the most powerful sermons I witnessed was at a DANA concert in our parish. DANA, the internationally acclaimed Irish singer, had begun a moving song, when her accompanist on the electronic keyboard began playing in the wrong key. He stopped suddenly and said, “I’m sorry.” DANA simply stopped in mid-phrase and waited, head bowed in prayer, until the accompanist, her brother, collected himself and resumed playing in the right key. DANA never lost her composure as she again began to sing the song. When she finished, she humbly walked over to her brother and hugged him, whispering, “I love you.” It was a tender moment. It was a powerful sermon.

We’ve seen many acts of kindness on the news, of strangers helping strangers and neighbours helping neighbours, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and in the devastating earthquake in Mexico City. Many hands and feet in action, doing what Jesus would do.

Michel Quoist wrote, “Tomorrow God isn’t going to ask/What did you dream?/What did you think?/What did you plan?/What did you preach?/He’s going to ask What did you do?” (With Open Heart)

How will you respond?

Have you seen a good sermon lately? Do others see that sermon in you?

Martino Land is a freelance writer who lives in North Palm Beach, FL.