“Words and Deeds” The Rev. D. Wallace Adams-Riley
Dear God, take my lips, and speak through them;
take our minds, and think through them;
take our hearts, and do with them what only you can do.
Jesus spoke the words of God. And he did the deeds of God.
Both words and deeds.
And he asks us to go and do likewise.
Words and deeds.
Some of us, of course, prefer one to the other.
Michael Lindvall, a Presbyterian pastor inNew York City, tells the story of an Episcopalian who worked at a bookstore, somewhere in the city.
One morning she arrived at work, to find a Hasidic Jew standing, and waiting, at the door.
Well, hustling along, of course, once she’d gotten the lights turned on, and the door open, she approached and asked, “Would you like any help?”
“Yes,” he said, gently. “I would like to know about Jesus.”
Oh. Sure. She then proceeded to show him the way, walking him upstairs, to the section of the bookstore marked “Christianity.”
She then turned to head back downstairs, when he said, “No.”
“Don’t show me any more books. Tell me what you believe.”
She remembered, “My Episcopal soul shivered.”
Yes, that’s right. Mainline Christians, including us Episcopalians, are, generally, reluctant to put words to our faith, preferring, instead, to leave that to others, and to think of ourselves as satisfying, by way of deeds, the call to mission and evangelism.
Jesus, however, by his own life, makes it clear that’s it not an either/or proposition.
It’s not one or the other.
And the mission and ministry of the disciples (aka the apostles) renders the same verdict: both words and deeds.
“So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
Words: proclamation. And deeds: deliverance, healing.
Talking. And walking.
Walking and talking. Both.
A few years ago, at Emory University, in Atlanta, it was graduation time, and the undergraduates were chattering away as University officials clicked through the honorary degrees.
A citation would be read, the hood would be placed, with great dignity, on the recipient, and the recipient would give the obligatory few remarks in acknowledgement.
The undergrads, meanwhile, were in the process of delivering one big, collective yawn.
Until, that is, until Hugh Thompson spoke.
Tom Long, a member of the Emory faculty, remembers that moment.
“[Thompson] was probably the least educated man on the platform; he did not finish college, choosing instead to enlist in the Army, where he became a helicopter pilot. On March 16, 1968, he was flying a routine patrol in Vietnam when he happened to fly over the village of My Lai just as American troops, under the command of Lieutenant William Calley, were slaughtering dozens of unarmed villagers, old men, women, and children. Thompson set his helicopter down between the troops and the remaining civilians.
He ordered his tail-gunner to train the helicopter guns on the American soldiers, and he ordered the gunmen to stop killing the villagers. Hugh Thompson’s actions saved the lives of dozens of people. It was thirty years before the Army awarded him the Soldier’s Medal.
As [Hugh Thompson] stood at the microphone, the rowdy student body grew still.”
Hugh Thompson then put words to the deeds.
In unadorned fashion, he spoke about his faith; the faith his parents had shared with him, when he was a boy.
“They taught me,” he said, “They taught me, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do onto you.’”
And, almost as one person, the student body sprang to their feet, and gave Thompson a rousing ovation.
As Tom Long describes, the students were moved, the students were bowled over at Thompson’s simple witness, “words of Jesus, words from Sunday school, words from worship, words of Christian testimony…”[ii]
There is a time for action, yes. And there is, as well, a time to say something.
Both/and. Words, deeds.