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Saturday, 1 August 2015

Actions speak louder than words

Here is the text of my most recent sermon preached at St Stephen Walbrook (click here to listen to this sermon on the London Internet Church site):

Actions speak louder than words. This proverb can be traced at least as far back as a speech made by J. Pym in Parliament in 1628 in which he said: ‘A word spoken in season is like an Apple of Gold set in Pictures of Silver,’ and actions are more precious than words.’

The proverb is, however, ultimately based on Biblical ideas and phrases such as 1 John 3. 18 where we read: ‘let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.’ This teaching probably then derives from Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 7. 15 – 21) where he argues that we are known by our fruits, meaning our actions, and that simply saying ‘Lord, Lord’ without then acting on that confession is not enough to guarantee our salvation.

In the Parable of the sheep and goats Jesus emphasises that it is actions, not words, that will count in the final judgement, when he says: ‘‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

St Francis of Assisi summed up this aspect of Jesus’ teaching well, when he said: ‘Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.’

Despite this we all know how easy it is to be a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ by saying one thing and doing another. We also know how much those who are found out in their hypocrisy, most recently Lord Sewel, are then criticised. Christians are often criticised on the basis of hypocrisy by those who think we have a holier-than-thou attitude. However, Christians should actually be those who are most aware of their fallibilities and failings because of our recognition of our need to regularly confess our sins, as we will do later in this service when we say, in the general Confession: ‘We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.’

This means that a full and consistent meshing of our words and our actions is often more than we can manage, which still remaining something towards which we strive.

The Bible gives us at least two sources of help in doing so. The first can be noted in the very first Psalm which uses the image of good fruit growing on a tree in order to say that good fruit grows in our lives when we delight in the law of the Lord and meditate of that law day and night. Regular meditation on scripture feeds our ability to better integrate our words and actions.

Our second source is found in Galatians 5 where the fruit that we are called to produce is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The originator of these behaviours in us is the Holy Spirit. The fruit are of the Spirit whenever and however they show up in our lives and actions.

Being led by the Spirit and regularly meditating on the scripture are the two keys to a closer meshing of words and actions in our lives.

What kind of fruit – behaviours leading to actions – are evident is our lives? Do we, like Lord Sewel, effectively lead a double live in which we live out the reverse of those things we say in public? The honest place for us to be is to acknowledge and state that there is often a gap between our words and our actions. In other words that we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness while also asking for and allowing the Spirit and scriptures to combine in bring change within our lives.

In this way we, can avoid becoming one who says ‘Lord, Lord’ but does not do the will of our Father in heaven. In this way, we can avoid becoming those who are wolves in sheep’s clothing and will become like good trees which bear good fruit.


Belle & Sebastian - My Wandering Days Are Over.

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