Column by Mary Lee Talbot
“I have some homework for you,” the Rev. Zina Jacque said to the congregation. “I want you to think of two practices that someone from your faith tradition or spiritual space should do every day. I will get back to you at the end of the sermon.”
Jacque preached at the 9:15 a.m. morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “A Game of Charades,” and the scripture reading was from Matthew 1:18-20, Joseph and the birth of Jesus.
Charades, she said, was created in the 19th century and has delighted people in many places. She described the rules: With at least two teams, one thinks of phrases, book titles or movie titles for the other team to act out. A person from Team A picks a selection from Team B and acts it out for their team to guess.
“People are required to communicate only using their actions, their faces and bodies. Actions speak louder than words,” she said. “Nowhere from Matthew to Revelation does Joseph speak out loud. We are told what he said but we see what he believed by his actions.”
Joseph heard about Mary’s pregnancy from an angel. “We hear the angel speak, we hear Mary speak, we hear Elizabeth speak, but we never hear Joseph. When Jesus was lost in Jerusalem at age 12, we would expect the father to speak to him, but it was Mary who asked, ‘Why have you treated us this way?’ ” Jacque said.
She told the congregation, we know that Joseph was a righteous person because of his actions; he operated out of an ethic of love. He could have had Mary stoned to death.
“We know he was a gracious person because he decided to divorce her quietly. And we know he was obedient because he knew that what the angel said was of the Holy Spirit. What we know about him is from his actions and behavior, not his words,” she said.
Actions speak louder than words and “we are playing a game of charades every day,” Jacque told the congregation. “People can’t hear what we say because of how we act, how we spend our money, the bumper stickers on our cars. The world is watching the church and we are failing because our actions do not align with our words.”
Author Jeffrey Moss, in his book Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Religions, looked at maxims like the Golden Rule, and showed that even though they are stated differently in different religions, the imperative to treat others as you wish to be treated is common in all faiths.
“In our nation today, a Pew Research study has shown that Democrats and Republicans don’t want to defeat the other party, they want to move the other party off the face of the Earth,” Jacque said. “How many of us only see ‘me’ instead of ‘we’? Native American cultures teach us to take only what we need. How many of us compost or truly understand where our plastic recycling goes?”
She continued, “We are playing charades and failing. We are taught to honor our father and mother but the fastest growing segment of unhoused people are seniors. One in seven seniors is food insecure. We may serve our own families, but what do our actions say about us for the rest of the nation and the world?”
Christians are called to love their enemies but “we act like we want to remove them from the Earth, or at least our presence,” Jacque said. “There is a difference between praying about someone and praying for someone. We have to align our words with our actions. Ask yourself: What did my actions or behavior say today?”
Jacque asked the congregation again if their actions aligned with their words. In the world today, people cannot hear what is said or read what is written because they are too busy tearing each other down to prove each other wrong.
In Joseph, we see a grace-filled heart, and a willingness to be kind, she said to the congregation. “Think about the 48 hours before you came to Chautauqua, because what happens in Chautauqua doesn’t count. What did your life communicate?”
When Jacque married, it was a package deal that included two children, a daughter and a son, from her husband’s previous marriage. The daughter came to live with them and she was angry that her father had moved so far west, away from where the former family lived.
Jacque searched for a way to reach out to her new daughter. She hit upon the idea of having a cup of tea each night with her. She would make the tea, take it up to the bedroom, and she would not leave until her daughter drank the tea. Sometimes she drank very fast just to get Jacque to leave.
“I had no words for her, but I wanted her to know that she had a place in my heart,” Jacque said. The daughter is now grown with a son of her own. When her grandson came to stay with Jacque and her husband for the first time, she put him to bed. He asked her, “Grandma Z, aren’t we going to have tea?”
Jacque said, “It was a simple thing to do to end the day, but it showed the love that words could not.”
Again she asked the congregation, “What does your life say? Where you spend your money says something about your religious practice. Can you receive immigrants, love your enemies — do, and not just speak? The world is watching and the world needs church values. Jesus told the disciples to love one another so that they might be one.”
Jacque returned to the homework she gave the congregation at the beginning of her sermon. She asked, “Of the two things that someone of your faith or spiritual tradition should do every day, when was the last time you did them?”
She continued, “How hard is it for you to live into your faith? Will you try? The world is watching. We are playing charades and they will see what we do. What difference will your story make when you walk out of the room? Let our lives be a shining example of God’s love, grace and presence.”
The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, senior pastor for Chautauqua Institution, presided. The Rev. John Morgan, pastor of Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, read the scripture. Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, played “Prelude” on Jesu dulcis memoria, by Pamel Decker, for the prelude. The Motet Choir sang “Let the life I’ve lived speak for me,” under the direction of Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, and accompanied by Stigall on the Massey Memorial Organ. The anthem was written by Gwyneth Walker and the traditional words were altered by Walker. The postlude was “Fugue” on Jesu dulcis memoria by Decker. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching is provided by the Harold F. Reed, Sr. Chaplaincy and the John William Tyrrell Endowment for Religion.