Show & Tell
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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17):
To listen to earlier homilies click here.
Other Texts: Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
Draft copy of the homily—please do not cite without permission
“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Began to show, not tell, but show…
Every aspiring writer has heard the adage: Show don’t tell.
It usually means, don’t just use a simple declarative sentence.
Instead use descriptive prose to really engage the reader in the scene.
For example don’t say, “the preacher had writer’s block.”
Say: The cursor blinked tauntingly at him from the corner of a blank screen.
Although he had cleaned every room in the house, and his office twice—”so he could concentrate”—he remained distracted.
“Maybe a walk outside would help,” he thought, but a trip around the reservoir later, and he was still staring at the same cursor blinking on the same, pure white screen.
Telling is about dispensing information. Showing is about creating experience. It’s about building relationships.
From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples…create experiences that engaged them, build relationships between them that would sustain them in the years after he is gone…
“Jesus began to show his disciples” is an odd phrase, because really from the beginning, from before the beginning, Jesus has been showing us who God is, and what God is like.
He’s been showing with his very incarnate existence that God is with us.
Showing us in spiritually, emotionally, and in very real, tangible, physical ways that we can know, experience, and relate to Emmanuel—God with us—here and now.
In Matthew, Jesus shows in his first sermon, and then later in his ministry, who and what God cares deeply about—the poor, the meek, the hungry, those who mourn…
Jesus shows God’s passion for relationship through his healing, which is always more about restoring relationships and helping people grow in health and wholeness than it is about returning someone to some prior state—it’s never simply a return to what they were before.
He shows God’s commitment to growth—emotional, spiritual, intellectual growth—through his teachings—which are all in parable form, in other words, not formulas that you memorize and then regurgitate in order to pass a standardized test, but stories that engage us, draw us in, make us question who we are, show us what our role in the story is, challenge us to grow into self-awareness.
Jesus shows God’s abundant, overflowing graciousness and love for all in the feeding of 4,000 and 5,000…shows God’s power and authority by walking over chaotic waves, and stilling storms.
He’s been showing us God from the beginning of his ministry, but now something changes…
If we were reading Luke, we would now begin to hear that Jesus had “set his face toward Jerusalem.”
But in Matthew he doesn’t set his face…he begins to show them…that he must go to Jerusalem, undergo great suffering, be killed and resurrected.
At this point in Matthew, he’s mostly done with the big flashy miracles—no more walking on water, no more stilling of storms, no more feeding of multitudes.
But he continues to show people the way of God, and the way back to God by telling parables…By healing a boy with a demon…By enabling blind people to see…By describing the difficult work of forgiving—not just once, but 77 times if necessary…By confronting head on the injustices of empire…By cleansing the temple…By taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing bread with his disciples…By being arrested, killed, and resurrected.
And finally by empowering us, promising to be with us, and sending us into the world to help fulfill God’s plan of reconciling all creation with our creator, of drawing all things to God.
It’s as if, for the first part of Matthew he’s been showing us what God is like, and who and what God cares most about; and then from this point on he begins to show us what living a cross-shaped, resurrected life is really all about.
From this point on, he begins to show us what following him really looks like.
And what it really costs.
From this time on, Jesus begins to show us the fullness of God’s plan.
And how it includes us.
He shows that God’s plan of salvation is not just some drama played out on a stage—not some cosmic battle between good and evil that really only requires three characters, God, The Evil One, and some perfect, willing human sacrifice while the rest of us just look on in stunned silence.
Jesus now shows that we are also characters in this story, and have parts to play.
Author Donald Miller, in the book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, wonders, “if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgment.
“We don’t want to be characters in a story,” he says, “because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage.
“And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.”
In other words, characters have to be active.
They respond to the situations they’re in, whether good or bad.
Characters in stories have to be human, believable.
We have to relate to them.
Characters in stories, if they’re well drawn—if they show and don’t tell—are vital, alive, and very, very vulnerable.
Audiences—spectators—are none of those.
Audiences can be passive—unresponsive—spectators are the people a story happens around.
Peter is a character.
He risks, he gets things wrong, and still is one of the first to see the resurrected Christ.
He has a part to play—what is your role?
For a very long time Christians have done ourselves a huge disservice by allowing this idea that salvation is simply a matter of saying the right things, believing the right things, or that the sacraments are simply a matter of a priest performing the correct rituals.
It’s a disservice because it not only turns the sacraments into a kind of magic, but also it turns us into spectators, and not participants—not characters in the greatest story every told, the grand narrative of salvation.
We are to be fully-formed characters in this drama of salvation that God is writing.
And today, Jesus invites us once again to get involved and show others what this cross-shaped, resurrected life is all about.
How do we do that?
Remember, telling is about dispensing information.
Showing is about creating experience.
About building relationships.
We show what following Christ means by helping to create spaces where our children can build on a foundational relationship with God through our ministry with children.
By welcoming all and building relationships with communities in Tanzania, Honduras, and around Boston.
By opening our doors and sharing our space—being a ministry of presence—for choral groups and orchestras who meet alongside numerous AA groups.
By becoming a resource for the community, a safe space where questions can be asked, where civil discussions can be held, where joy is palpable…
And mostly by being a body who consistently and intentionally points people to the places where they can see Jesus.
To the places where they can meet Jesus.
Where they can experience Jesus.
In the bread and wine, in the poor, in the stranger, in the child, in the elderly, in the sick…
By showing others that we all have a part to play, and that we can all become more fully formed characters in the great story of salvation that God is still writing…