January 2021

Practice What You Preach

4th Sunday After Epiphany, January 31, 2021
Mark 1:21-28, 1st Corinthians 8:1-13

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

My dad, who was a conservative Baptist minister, who also recognized his imperfections, once commented that, despite his fallibilities, when it came to preaching the word of God that was, for him, the most nervous experience of all. For he remembered the passage in Deuteronomy that said, “If a prophet presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded…that prophet shall die.” (18:20)

This passage of scripture was one of the reasons it took me a long time to decide whether I wanted to become a minister. And once when our church was considering a controversial issue on which to decide, I remember asking some members, “Do you feel that if you made the wrong decision, God would strike you dead or punish the church?” They didn’t think so, and neither did I. But I do believe that our beliefs and behavior as a church contribute to positive or dire consequences. So, in the words of the old saying, we must practice what we preach.                                          

The Apostle Paul is certainly aware of this when he instructs the church in Corinth to be mindful of their behavior, for others are always watching to either learn or ridicule (1st Corinthians 8:10).

Parents, I trust you are also well aware of this when it comes to providing examples for your children. To charge them to “Do as I say and not as I do” won’t suffice for neither children nor adults, for if you don’t practice what you preach, why should they?

Not long ago, I offered the first class to a Bible Study entitled Building the Beloved Community because in our day and age when it becomes increasingly difficult to discern truth from lies and fact from fiction; when those who profess to be Christian are publicly behaving and endorsing actions contrary to what I believe is the word and way of God, it becomes crucial that we as Christians embody what we believe and clarify the objectives we wish to achieve.

The difference between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day, according to Mark’s gospel, is that they were all talk; talk that could be interpreted in a variety of ways that might even contradict each other. Jesus offered action, a living practical example, by healing of the demoniac. Now whatever psychotic multi-personality behavior this man suffered, we are told Jesus cured, and the people, as a result, were amazed.

Now I confess having difficulty with miracle stories of the Bible because they leave us mortals wondering how we might continue the life-changing presence of God when the miracle worker is gone. However, when we understand both the healer and the healed as metaphors to a wider dimension of the divine-demonic tension, then the story becomes a more palatable likeness of the church’s role in today’s world.

The demon in Mark’s gospel speaks for the worldly conventions of Jesus’s day and ours, hell-bent on addicting us to its mode of reality, convincing us that its way of life is the only way. And it is the only way because we are taught to know no other way.

As oppressed and marginalized people assume greater prominence in our nation and world, the hearts and minds of the rest of the world are becoming increasingly convinced that they’ve been deceived by a distorted history and narrative of human civilization that failed to include the overwhelming contribution and perspective of those who aren’t white and male; and that they’ve been duped into accepting that the only economic means of social prosperity is one in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The church should offer a radical alternative to the status quo so intimidating that its demons cry out, “Have you come to destroy us?”

Yes, we have; for we have been conditioned to practice what we preach, to embody what we believe. We have been entrusted with a vision of what the world can be, where the eyes of the blind are opened, and the captives set free. We too cry out to a demon-possessed world, “Prepare the way of the Lord. The realm of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:3, 15) Amen.