During our holiday we visited Upton house near Banbury in Oxfordshire. We arrive on a warm Saturday afternoon to be asked – did we want to attend a millionaire’s house party? All though we felt that we did not qualify by being about 999,999 pounds short, we agreed. And so we were greeted at the mansion’s door by one of the National Trust Guides in evening gown and feathered head band to be addressed you as your grace, or worship or my lord. She then assured us that the servants would be getting your bags to our rooms, told us when we must dress for dinner at 8 pm and enquired whether our valets had told the butler our preferred wine. She then recommended, although did not serve up, a 1930’s cocktail called the earthquake. The reason for the name was that it contained nearly every form of alcohol possible and so after drinking it there could be an earthquake and you couldn’t care less!
Of course, the whole charade was no more than a house tour built around the theme of a ‘between the wars’ weekend party. But what a great way to communicate – to communicate about something that was a great passion to all the mock flappers and hooray henries who were acting as guides – to communicate about a way of life they thought we should know of? What a great way indeed to get our interest!
Well, If only we had the same enthusiasm, initiative and panache to explain what is important to us. Put directly, if only we had the same will and ability to communicate the meaning of the living presence of Christ Jesus in our lives.
Therefore as we start a new series of sermons on what we are called to be, let us commence with the greatest of all callings – the calling to be communicators. A calling enshrined in out gospel text of today. Since it was there we hear the need to acknowledge Jesus before all humankind and to do so without fear.
Here then is our clear call to stand up and speak up – here is our call to share our enthusiasm and knowledge – here is our commissioning as communicators.
However, recent studies have shown that many people fear public speaking more than chronic illness and even death. And most of us can empathize with that phobia. For after all, few of us can stand on our feet and spout forth un-self-consciously. It is then we need to recall Moses; that Moses who was so full of excuses and that Moses who claimed that he was slow of speech and tongue. But also that self-same Moses who God helped to be his chosen communicator by giving him a method by which to communicate. Because, it is of course much easier to be a communicator of any great truth if have a plan and a technique and a vision of what we want to achieve.
Now when I was in Dartmouth we were taught our leadership skills from a formula developed by one Professor John Adair. Well Adair also wrote a book on effective communications. And in it he laid down a few simple rules; a plan that indeed would take our calling as communicators forward and a technique that will help us effectively bear witness to Christ even if like Moses we have no great gift of eloquence.
For Adair starts by requiring us to be clear and to be well prepared – Great guidance. For how can we hope to make Jesus’ case to an easily distracted world if we do not know what God has done for us, is doing for us and what he will do for us. In all honesty, how can we be powerful Christian advocates if we have not thought through where Jesus is leading us and why we want to go there.
Similarly, Adair reminds us to be simple and vivid. For surely our lord chose not long legalistic diatribes to get his message over. Instead he chose the memorable parable, the sharp story and the even sharper direct command. Therefore, let us cast aside the thees and thous of the Stuart Kings, the vocabulary that is straight out of a theological dictionary and the holy Willie phrasing that some adopt. Instead all we need do is recognise the great wisdom of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania who once gave advice on being a communicator like this:
Speak in a few, plain words that are your own and speak not showily but to be understood.
Finally, our illustrious Professor tells us to be natural. Jesus never wanted us to purport to be anyone other than ourselves. An that is a person of faith – even if from time to time we fail it; a person of beliefs – even if from time to time we do not understand them and a person of compassion even when from time to time we forget it. Because in the end of the day, it was Moses with all his faults and failings who led a disbelieving people out of meaningless captivity through a doubt-filled dessert and into the promised land. Christ today then asks no less or no more from us!
However, all this sounds difficult and hard work. And when we start out as God’s Communicators, it probably will be even when we know the prize of our success will be enormous. Yet Christ knew this when he counseled against the easy option. Moses also knew this when he asked for God assistance in his forthcoming witnessing. Professor Adair too was aware of the difficulties for anyone wishing to begin to communicate effectively. And that is why he concludes his book by remarking:
Like learning a new language, speaking out at first seems awkward. But it is not unnatural because we are only perfecting our natural gifts. Eventually, with persistence, our efforts will drift into our subconscious abilities and then we will have the power and joy to influence others with a message which is greater than ourselves.