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Holy Tattletales

January 5, 2015

“Holy Tattletales” Ephesians 3:1-12 © 1.4.15 Epiphany B by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

“Listen!” goes the old Beatles song. “Do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell?” (Lennon/McCartney, “Do You Want to Know a Secret?”) Those few lines capture the very essence of a secret. It must be kept hidden; otherwise, it would no longer be a secret.

So it comes as something of a surprise when the author of Ephesians speaks of the secret of Christ which had been hidden, but which now has been told and must be told. Not selectively, to close friends and gossip partners. Not to those with special clearance and credentials. Not on a “need to know” basis. Not just to a loved one with whom we want to share the fun of a private joke. But indiscriminately. To everyone, everywhere. The secret God had is now “declassified,” subject to “public access” and “sunshine laws.” It’s all over social media, TV, and the papers.

What has been made known is not some mystery of the universe or a fact of biology or physics we had not yet discovered. It is not a revelation about a conspiracy or what really happened in 1947 at Roswell, New Mexico. Nor is it, unfortunately, any specific answer to the very difficult questions we have about life and death, suffering and evil. Instead, what has now been told is THE SECRET, written large, all caps, standing alone.

The revelation is of God’s own heart. In it, God renders himself vulnerable, open to our gaze. He speaks of his love and acts on his promise of faithfulness. In a word, the secret now out is Christ himself. Christ the Savior. Christ the Reconciler. Christ who leads us to our Creator. Christ the Head of the Church, Lord of the world and cosmos. The secret is that in Christ—born in Bethlehem, teaching in Galilee, dying on a cross in Judea, risen to reign over all—in this One, God acts to bring a new day for all humankind.

The telling of the mystery of God’s heart means that you and I and all believers have a special task. We might say we are called to be holy tattletales, godly gossips, righteous rats, sacred snitches running around telling what we know to everybody.

The qualifying words I used are important. “Holy tattletales. Godly gossips.” When I was a kid, about the worst thing you could be was a tattletale, to get another child in trouble with parents or teachers because “you told!” And I suspect many of us have been hurt by gossip and rumor; we therefore despise the back-fence and water-cooler loudmouth. Whistle-blowers and snitches in corporate and government cultures might be looked on as pond scum and even be subject to prosecution. The person the police call a “confidential informant” might be in danger of being gunned down by gang members or drug dealers should his or her identity be revealed on the street. And no matter if we are in no such danger, we’re not inclined to just go around spreading secrets; it’s not right. It’s a breach of trust.

But as we tell God’s secret we are not malicious gossips or back-stabbing snitches. We are people with a holy task and divine permission to tell our tales of good news and complete truth, stories that will not hurt anyone, but will do everything to help and heal and restore.

It occurs to me, though, that I may be barking up the wrong tree. It might not be the description of the task, but the methodology that bothers us. We may be quite talkative when it comes to what happened in the latest ball game or what the kids or the dog did just this morning. We might be able to close a business deal or engage in witty dinner conversation that engages and entertains. Could be we can even discuss arcane subjects and relate details of some obscure event in history with ease. But just how do we go about telling this secret made known in Christ?

We know very well what we don’t want to do. We don’t want to be like “them.” You know: fundamentalists, TV preachers, hucksters, healers, mega-church pastors, door-to-door tract pushers. For us, all of those and more define the “e” word, that we just can’t seem to say any more than those other terms we refer to in polite company with a single letter. I’m talking about “evangelism.” We cannot imagine ourselves participating in such a reprehensible, pushy, and invasive business.

The result is that somebody else goes around telling God’s secret. And in my view, what happens is rather like in that game “Gossip,” where the message gets garbled badly and comes out sounding nothing like what was spoken at the beginning. Do we really want that to happen to the greatest news, the most important, exciting, life-changing news, in the cosmos because we reject our calling out of fear and ignorance and who knows what else?

But evangelism does not have to be hard-sell, manipulative or intrusive. The word simply means the sharing of good news or as in our text, the revelation of God’s heart, God’s secret. And our style of doing that will be determined by the sort of God we believe is revealing himself. I presume we believe in a gracious, winsome, caring, relational God. Then our evangelism will be like that, too.

Even the door-to-door variety can be done without invading the lives of people. I heard of a church several years ago that sent folks around near Christmas to hang bags of bows on doors in neighborhoods. In the bag was also a couple of key chains featuring the name of the church, along with a flyer describing its ministry. My former congregation in Kentucky did much the same thing at the time of our Multicultural Festival. Our youth group put flyers in doors in the neighborhood inviting folk to come.

But the best kind of evangelism is personal sharing. Did you notice that the biblical author dares to identify his personal history with an event from which the Gentiles benefit? He talks about receiving revelation and being a steward, a trustee, of God’s grace. His individual experience and the grace given him are somehow a model of what God intends for the world. The author has become a signal and a symbol of the momentous turn of events God has brought about.

Like that ancient writer, all of us have a story to tell to the nations or at least to our neighbors. The names, the places, the circumstances differ, but there’s a common thread that runs through any account of faith we might give. And that’s Jesus Christ, God’s secret. We may have known him as one who comforts or challenges, calls or commands, enlivens or enriches. We may have found him in corporate worship or in private reading, in a crowd or in the solitude of our hearts, as a child or a youth or an adult. But it is he we have to share, whatever our autobiography. And it is he who can use our story as the means to touch a hurting friend, to bring meaning to a seeker and health to a wounded soul, to point to friendship and grace and hope and love.

But we also have a story to tell together, as the Church, the people of God of whatever theology or denomination. We dare to find in the way God has dealt with us an indication of what he wants for all humanity. Taking a cue from the ancient prophet, we say that the Church is the sole bright spot in a dark and gloomy world. We presume to claim that the Church has a message like no one else, a word to say as no other group of people do, a mission that’s unique. We boldly proclaim that our message is important for everyone, the whole world over. And we say without apology that the whole world benefits when the Church has a clear sense of its standing before God and a self-consciousness informed by what God has done. The world benefits when it sees among us a demonstration that people with different stories really can accomplish something together and live in harmony, that people gripped by something, by Someone beyond themselves can join for a greater purpose than the pursuit of their own personal agendas. In our case, water is thicker than blood, as someone has said. The water of baptism binds us more closely than heritage and family and descent.

And we don’t even stop there with our audacious claims. We say that it’s for the good of all when the Church is sure of its message and mission. And we’re presumptuous enough to insist that the commitment of the Church to peace, justice, and compassion enhances human life.

And so we’re taken to another dimension of evangelism. We sometimes hear ministries of evangelism and social justice set against each other, as if they were enemies. But the proclamation of the secret who is Christ means that we are called to a very public task. The author of Ephesians summoned his congregations to make known to the principalities and powers the manifold wisdom of God. By “principalities and powers,” he had in mind the notion of his day that every human organization was controlled or guided by spiritual powers, sometimes good, at other times evil. Whether or not we still buy that, we can certainly admit that corporations, governments, clubs, churches, families, all have a kind of life of their own that is larger than the sum of their parts. We talk about the “American dream” or “the spirit of a people.” We speak of “the way we do things around here” or “the story” or “myth” or “ethos” of a company or a church or a community. Whatever the ancient language may mean, this much is clear: the author is speaking of engagement of the Church and Christians with movers and shakers, the powers that be, what makes the world go ‘round. The efforts may be large or small, official or informal, with education or business or government, conflicted or cooperative, but they are also sharing good news, telling the secret.

My point is that whether we’re talking about evangelism—sharing the secret—as a personal or a corporate effort, there are many, many ways to do it. The writer of Ephesians wrote about the “manifold wisdom” of God. And if God’s wisdom is so multi-faceted, so is our sharing of it. We’re limited only by our imagination, our creativity, and our commitment.

Sisters and brothers, THE SECRET is out. My charge to you, that I also will take to heart, is to be a tattletale. Tell everybody you know the good news. Live it. Share it. Even shout it. The Light has come!

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