Recently a vicar (no, not that vicar) asked me to contribute a sermon on proclaiming the gospel message through writing. Happy to be asked, I said yes. Then I wondered whichever passage I would preach on. “Of the making of books there is no end”? Jeremiah’s “Eat this scroll”? My husband suggested looking at Colossians, for Paul never visited that church but ministered through the written word.
I remained stuck, asking God for direction. That leading came through Facebook, for when I posed the question on my wall and in a Christian writer’s group, I received enough responses to write a book: Habakkuk 2:2: “Write the vision.” Or John 1, “In the beginning was the Word…” Or Psalm 45:1: “My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” All rich with possibility, but the passage I settled on was Luke 1:1-4 as suggested by a writer who said it makes “clear that the words are written to communicate Christ to the reader.”
Do you remember that bit at the beginning of the gospel? Luke uses it to tell Theophilus why he’s writing, but he’s also employing a literary convention that historians such as Josephus used to prove their authenticity and merit. So too Luke says that although “many have undertaken to draw up an account,” yet he “too decided to write an orderly account.” Why? Because “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning.” He’s not implying that the earlier accounts were hopeless and thus he needs to pen his own. Rather he wants to build on and enlarge their work through his careful research and eyewitness interviews. Primarily, he wants to reassure Theophilus: “So that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
Encouragement for us to write too, don’t you think? Of course we won’t be creating Holy Writ. But if we are writing an historical account, for instance, we can follow Luke’s example of careful documentation to produce a trustworthy account. We can share his passion to tell the stories of God transforming lives. We can encourage our readers in the foundations of their faith.
As I looked out on the congregation, clustered at the back in a cavernous and chilly Anglican church, I prayed that my words might spark some interest in the gift and discipline of writing. Conscious that many might not see themselves as writers, I emphasized the numerous ways we can write today, such through letters, emails, texts, social-networking sites, blogs. As we communicate, we can be a transformative presence. For instance, deciding never to act out a conflict over email. Or posting a handwritten letter as a surprise. Or texting a Scripture to encourage.
I spoke about other places to write without seeking publication, such as keeping a prayer journal, which could become a treasured record of God’s working in our lives. Or documenting our family history. Or creating poems as a meaningful gift. And I spoke about writing for publication, such as letters to the editor, features in the local newspaper, writing for a charitable organization. And columns, articles, stories, Bible reading notes, books… the places where we can write are many.
Did my words accomplish what I hoped as I unpacked one short passage in Scripture? Only God knows. I felt slightly disheartened as I glimpsed some frozen faces in the congregation. But God’s breath can bring life and warmth into even a cold church on a rainy day. And just as I don’t know the true effect of that sermon, neither do we of our written words. We ask God for the seeds to sow, and with his strength we fling them as far and wide as we’re able. Then we ask him to provide rain, sunshine, and protection from hungry birds or constricting weeds.
May the Lord refill our stock of seed, that we may help to produce a harvest of righteousness.