“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
St. Francis of Assisi
It was probably fifteen years ago when I first heard this quote and I hated it. I was a ripe young graduate from a Christian university working as a missionary in Europe. Depending on who I was speaking with, I would have told you my purpose was to love people, or in other words, “share the gospel” with them.
At that point in my life, love always demanded an explanation. The blatant, forthright kind that usually left people a little stunned and speechless. The good news and my words seemed inseparable.
Kindness could not be incognito. Every action needed to be undergirded by a grand, Kingdom purpose.
I didn’t know another way. It felt required to mention Jesus’ name to the Iranian girl in my German class who I was starting to get to know.
I was skilled at passing out flyers with a smile at the Easter Egg Hunt and discreetly funneling people into our church the next day.
I learned how to take a conversation from “Hi, how are you?” to “How’s your spiritual life?” in ten seconds.
When we think of preaching, we automatically assume some sort of audible message is necessary. As defined by the dictionary, preaching does mean to proclaim your beliefs in public. But we’re quick to imagine the church leader or street corner evangelist proclaiming his points with a microphone and a loud voice.
I see how I could be offended with Assisi.
Take away words from the Gospel and what’s left? Some watered-down version of the truth? A mysterious map to salvation? Or worse, just a smile, a weak thank you, a bit of laughter exchanged, or a pointless conversation about the weather?
Yes, all of this might happen. But guess what? The essence of the Gospel is finally able to surface.
Stripped of cheap words, we are left with a rich practice.
At one point, I thought this was heresy. How dare we divorce words from our actions! The gospel is more than passing out water bottles to thirsty runners or leaving a bag of groceries on the neighbor’s doorstep.
This kind of silent generosity or secretive lifestyle needs a scripture verse tagged on to it. We are skeptical of those who love quietly without pretense or an agenda.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what the Gospel looks like when it’s boiled down to its essence, and frankly the simplicity is scaring me.
The Gospel is slowly starting to look a lot more like being speechless and never mentioning the name of God to my neighbor. I’m learning the sacredness of flipping pancakes for my kids instead of flipping open a Bible story. That perhaps the best sermons are sitting with friends around a table giving thanks and listening first instead of jumping in with my opinions.
I still cringe writing out these revelations because obviously I’m a writer. I still think ornate words deserve priority over plain practices. They communicate the message better, don’t they?