The great Chinese preacher, Watchman Nee, once preached a sermon without saying a word. It was during a time when Christians were under intense persecution in China. Anything he said to promote Christianity would have put him and his people in danger of being jailed.
So he mimed his sermon.
Standing before the congregation, he stared intently at a glass of water. Then, as if in anger, he slammed it to the floor, breaking the glass into tiny pieces. Surveying the pieces, he put a smug expression on his face and walked around smashing them under foot.
Suddenly, his expression turned to horror. Stooping down, he began sweeping up the shards of glass. He put the pieces on a table and began trying to reconstruct them into a drinking glass. Unable to, he threw the pieces in the air and allowed them to scatter everywhere. Then he walked away.
Nee himself represented the government. The glass represented the church. He was telling his people that the state would try to smash the church, and for a while it would look as if it had succeeded. But soon the state would realize that it had made a terrible mistake because, instead of destroying the church, it had dispersed it, spreading its influence ever further.*
As a preacher and author, I live in a world of words. If I’m not speaking them, I’m writing them. And if I’m not speaking or writing them, I’m reading them. I hate to admit this, but sometimes my almost constant involvement with words causes me to forget how influential actions are. It’s a cliché, but I’m convinced that sometimes actions really do speak louder than words.
The prophet Zechariah said, “The suffering flock was watching me, and they knew that the Lord was speaking through my actions.” (Zechariah 11:11)
My favorite poet, Edgar Guest, wrote:
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day
I’d rather someone walk with me than merely point the way.
Perhaps because you don’t make your living as a minister, you think you’re not a preacher. Don’t kid yourself. Every day your actions send a message to the people in your world. It may not have an introduction, three points, and a conclusion, but it’ll be clear and unmistakable. In fact, that’s what makes wordless sermons so powerful…their spontaneity makes them raw and real.
So let me ask you what people are always asking me: What was your sermon about today?
*Robert J. Morgan, More Real Stories for the Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 265