The other day after a funeral I fell into conversation with two sisters : one was full of questions for me, to the extent that the other was moved to ask, “What is this, an interrogation?” to which the questioner/interrogator replied, “but I have never had a chance to ask a priest these things.” Well, how interesting. Paul writing to Timothy, who was in charge of the church at Ephesus says “I solemnly urge you to proclaim the message : be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable, convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”
There was probably never a time more favourable, for my new friend had been moved by the funeral, was thinking about its significance even about hymns for her own service and here I was captive over the ham sandwiches. And for me, how lovely to have someone asking good questions and ready to listen.
It is not always like that. Certainly in my old life in the boardroom the ears were not itching to hear sound doctrine but rather preferred to hear teaching attuned to their desires. We have had a recent example maybe with the collapse of Thomas Cook and we may at least call into question who they were listening to and what their motives may have been - we shall see. Paul says “Do the work of an evangelist fully” , so what are we to do in a situation when things seem to be taking a wrong turn and the doors are not open?
We are not all Paul, not firebrands and we may be timorous in the face of likely hostility. Some years back I had an experience which changed my approach. I found myself in Cincinnati at a board meeting of a company where I had no right to speak, no power, no vote just sitting in a corner listening to a discussion about the future of a senior employee which I thought was unjust. I knew only one or two of the people in the room and their organisation was reputed to be tough and uncompromising. But what they were proposing was unfair and so I remember saying a little arrow prayer before I opened my mouth to intervene. “This,” I said, “does not seem to me to be right ….. “ and I explained why. There was a silence that I expected to be filled with protest and “This has nothing to do with you,” but no - the hardest nosed of the people I knew, the Alan Sugar in the room said “Steve has a point, let us reconsider.”
Jesus said to his disciples, when you are put to the trial do not worry about what you will say, the Holy Spirit will give you the right words. It is a matter of faith, of trust which is much easier to imagine when in front of a friendly lady interrogator but look, it is always there. There is steel in the promise of the Holy Spirit so when you need to proclaim in unfavourable circumstances as I had to do that day, remember Paul’s words: “All scripture is useful, for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.” Use your faith knowledge and understanding of the Bible to speak into truth. You may well be surprised.
Be not afraid but be inspired.