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We Believe and So We Speak

2 Corinthians 4:13-16 [i]
Lauren J. McFeaters
February 20, 2022
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I love short stories. Lynna Williams has authored a short story called “Personal Testimony,” about a twelve-year-old girl, adopted by a fiery Southern Baptist preacher in West Texas. She grows up listening to energizing, pulpit-pounding sermons, and each summer she attends a Bible camp in Oklahoma.

By day, this camp is filled with archery, volleyball, canoeing, arts and crafts. And by night, all the campers attend a “Come to Jesus” revival meeting and it’s expected (at least twice during the summer), each child will come forward, and give a dramatic story of Christian conversion and personal testimony.

The trouble is most of the campers have never had a dramatic conversion and can’t begin to share a personal testimony. So the girl of the story discovers a way to both be both helpful and to make extra cash:  she becomes a ghostwriter for Jesus.

For $5 a piece she writes personal testimonies for the kids who just can’t come up with anything dramatic enough to confess. And it works. The kids at camp give the most remarkable testimony about faith. The camp has never, ever, seen anything like it.[ii]

Lynna Williams’s story, plays off the anxiety for many of us, that we don’t have sufficient words to express our faith; that we can’t testify to our commitment or attest aloud what we believe – that we need someone else to do it for us.

“Please,” we say, “point me to a book so I’ll know what I believe. Help me find a blog that has the words. Is there a YouTube video or Twitter feed I can follow?”

What we fail to remember is this: inside each of us is the capacity to bring forth our faith to speech. [iii] We believe and so we speak.

For Paul, many in the church in Corinth have forgotten how to speak about God. A church once so passionate about the risen Christ now suffers from the inability to share the gospel they love. The church has forgotten how to testify.

And why? Because they’re too caught up in arguments and squabbles. Paul finds himself faced with a beloved church who are pros at voicing disputes and mum about the God they worship. Nor does the church in Corinth trust Paul’s words, refuses his guidance, and is losing its heart to fear.

So once more, with pen to paper he writes a letter and  speaks the truth in love:

You are not to keep quiet about your love of God.

And just like the Psalmist says,

“I believed it, so I said it,” – we say what we believe.

And what we believe is:

the One who raised up our Lord,

will just as certainly raise us up.

Everything is for your sake:

more and more grace, more and more people,

more and more praise! [iv]

We believe, and so we speak.

We do not lose heart.

Paul knows the signs that we’ve lost our heart. It’s not a pretty sight. When we’ve forgotten how to count on the gifts of faith, like hope and purpose. When we lose confidence and groundedness in one another. When we can’t be bothered with prayer and worship. When we refuse to honor God with our words:

  • Self-centeredness reigns;
  • Crankiness abounds;
  • Everyone’s a grouch.

When the church forgets it’s voice, silent over one thing, getting their knickers in a twist about another; Paul knows it’s but a smoke screen for what’s needed most: to open our  mouths, even if it’s a whisper, saying, “Alleluia.”

We believe and so we speak.

We believe and so we sing.

We believe and so we pray.

We believe and so we act.

Be believe and so we grieve.

We believe and so we speak up when

witnessing acts of racism, injustice, and cruelty.

We do the thing, we think, we cannot do.

 And we do not lose heart.

Like the campers in Lynna Williams’ story, we forget inside each of us is the ability to bring forth our faith to speech and to use it for good.

One preacher puts it like this:

  • Our common misunderstanding is thinking we have to have our beliefs all neat and organized, you know, all decent and in order, before we open our mouths.
  • We don’t just say things we already believe. On the contrary, saying things out loud is a part of how we come to believe.
  • We talk our way toward belief, talk our way from tentative belief to firmer belief;
  • talk our way toward believing more fully, more clearly, more deeply.[v]

When the church of Jesus Christ feels battered by the world’s tragedy and trauma, and experiences an abundance of grief, fear, and anxiety. When we lose heart as heartbreak reigns upon our world, Paul, our Pastor, knows the Living Word can stand us once again on our feet. And the Living Word is this:

  • to speak of what we believe;
  • to speak on behalf of another until they too can speak,
  • to gather on behalf of those without voice;
  • to invite one another into a new beginning.

Oh the healing of a new beginning!

Don’t you love it? Don’t you need it?

Here are new beginnings:

  • There’s Abby McAlister, a local woman who moved to a new neighborhood, who fasted for Ramadan so that she might better understand her Muslim neighbors.
  • There’s the Masai warriors, who 20 years ago, gave 14 head of cattle, their most precious gift, to the people of the United States, so that they we might find a new beginning and a healing from the attacks of 9/11.[vi]
  • There’s a congregation on Nassau Street that stands and affirms the glory of God’s Spirit, and makes Baptismal promises to Celeste Anne, the newest member of Christ’s church.

Oh to embrace the new. That our lives may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. To be as determined as Paul, to set his beloved church of Corinth on a fresh path. And why? So that the church might speak aloud of what it believes, for we are ambassadors for Christ our Lord.

And loving us so deeply

Taking our old,

frayed,

tattered,

threadbare hearts,

and stitching, darning, and suturing them together,

God puts testimony on our tongues.

Such freedom. Such beauty. Such tenderness.

Everything old has passed away!

See, everything has become new!

Thanks be to God.

 

ENDNOTES

[i] 2 Corinthians 4:13-16: But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture – “I believed, and so I spoke” – we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. (NRSV)

[ii] Lynna Williams. “Personal Testimony,” in A Ghost at Heart’s Edge, eds. Susan Ito and Tina Cervin. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1999, 193-203.

[iii] Thomas G. Long. Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian. San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 2004, 5.

[iv]  Eugene H. Peterson. The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary English (2 Corinthians 4: 13-15). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group, 1993.

[v]  Long, 6.

[vi] Kaethe Weingarten, Common Shock: Witnessing Violence Every Day, How We Are Harmed, How We Can Heal. New York: E.P. Dutton, 2003.