Scripture: Acts 2:14, 36-41
Everyone is afraid of something, and when it comes to defining what we are afraid of English is oddly expressive. No matter how obscure the fear there is probably a specific term to define it. For instance there is someone out there who suffers from Xanthophobia, or fear of the color yellow. Because it is exists as a term there are some people who deal with Arachibutyrophobia. Which is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. Then there are other people who have sesquipedalophobia, which quite cruelly is the fear of long words. Those fears are all highly unusual, but even some more common fears might be less common than we think. For instance Arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders is fairly common, but to some degree that only impacts 8 to 15% of people. Likewise, acrophobia- the fear of heights- is a commonly thought of fear, but only around 6% of people do not like tall places. So even a lot of common fears are perhaps a lot less common than we might think. There is one particular fear though that is absolutely everywhere, and statistically if you yourself do not suffer from it then one of the people around you does. It is Glossophobia which is the fear of public speaking and it is estimated that almost 3/4ths of people are fearful of speaking in front of groups of people. The fear of public speaking is so prevalent, comedian Jerry Seinfeld once quipped, “people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. . .That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
A lot of people experience uneasiness, anxiety, and fear around the idea of talking in front of others. Like most fears though it is not the actual speaking that people are afraid of. Often when people say they are afraid of public speaking what they are afraid of is making mistakes, forgetting what to say, or losing their place. What people are afraid of is doing something embarrassing when lots of eyes are on them. So while I may be in the minority of people who are not afraid of talking in front of a group, I am sympathetic and understand why someone might be. As I read this morning’s scripture though, I thought of glossophobia. Normally, the thought of talking in front of people does not make my hand sweat or my breathing quicken, but I think if I was in Peter’s shoes I might have felt a little anxiety. This morning’s scripture describes a situation that even the most gifted public speakers may have found challenging. This morning’s scripture reminds us that when we are faithful to following God we may sometimes be led to do things that seem scary but God will always see us through.
We started this morning’s reading with verse 14 which states Peter stood up, raised his voice, and addressed the crowd. Now there was a crowd for a couple of reasons. First, it was the festival of Weeks or also referred to as the festival of the harvest. This traditional Jewish festival and holy day celebration was colloquially referred to as Pentecost. Being a high holy day, Jerusalem was once again full of people who had come to worship and make sacrifices. There was also a crowd because the disciples had made a bit of a commotion. Acts chapter 2 begins with the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit which came with the rush of a mighty wind and descended like tongues of fire. All of this racket gathered quite a crowd of onlookers and rubberneckers. This is the group that Peter stands up to address. We have to remember that this address was not some sort of well-prepared Ted Talk that had been developed and fine turned. It was spontaneous. We also have to remember that Peter was not a trained public speaker. He was a fisherman, not a toast master. We know from the gospels that Peter had some boldness in him, but in the gospel he is notorious for sticking his foot in his mouth. In the gospels, Peter has a real habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Yet, here he is spontaneously addressing a curious crowd of thousands. Yes, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, he was no doubt relying on the Spirit’s power, but I have to wonder if still had to have some nervousness, some anxiousness, and some fear about what he was doing.
Even if Peter was afraid, he was faithful and in this morning’s scripture we read the results. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter preached. Because Peter preached, hearts were convicted, and because Peter preached as verse 41 records, “those who accepted his message were baptized and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Peter was faithful and the way this was demonstrated, is that Peter preached. The same is true for each and every one of us. All who follow Jesus are to preach. We may not all speak in front of crowds of thousands Like Peter did, and we may not all be called to do it from behind a pulpit. But all Christians are to proclaim and share the good news of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins. As we consider how Peter preached the gospel in this morning’s scripture, I think we can get a couple of pointers about how we can do it in our own lives.
There is a quote that you may have heard before, and it is almost always misattributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It goes, “Preach the gospel at all times and use words only when necessary.” This is an incredibly popular quote, and I think one of the reasons for that is because this quote lets us off the hook. It seems to falsely create a dichotomy where Christian actions are a more effective and even more virtuous way of telling others about our faith. We like the notion that if we just live a certain way, then through some sort of osmosis process people will pick up on the gospel just from how we interact with them. We genuinely want to believe that our act of kindness will fully communicate that out of God’s great love he sent his son to offer forgiveness of sins through his death and resurrection. We cling to the notion that just living the way a Christian should is all that we have to do to share our faith with others. It is so odd that this quote got associated with St. Francis, because he literally did the opposite. You will often find artistic representations of St. Francis with birds or other animals, and this is because Francis had a habit of preaching to the animals. He could not stop talking about Jesus and God’s love, so that if there were no people around he would preach to the animals. One of the pointers we can get from this morning’s scripture is that perhaps we should be a bit more like St. Francis.
Now, do not get me wrong. I absolutely believe that we should live a life that is consistent with the Christian faith. I do believe that the way we live, the actions we take, and the choices we make should seek to follow Jesus’ example. I do believe that we should strive so that others know we are Christians by our live. Yet, I firmly put forth that cannot be the only way we share the good news of Jesus Christ. We have to also use words, and that is what we see in this morning’s scripture. Peter, along with the other disciples was freshly filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus had promised the disciples it would come, and they were now filled with the very power of God. So what does Peter do? He does not rely on actions to communicate the gospel. As demonstrated later in Acts, he had the power to do miraculous things like heal the sick, but that is not how Peter proclaims the gospel. He preaches, he uses words to share the message “repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.”
The first pointer we get from this scripture is that we must use words to share the good news of Jesus with others. Duane Liftin, president emeritus of Wheaton College, once wrote in an essay, “It’s simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behavior.” Yet, sharing the gospel, especially verbally is something that we do not do it like we should and unfortunately the statistics back this up. This is not about being afraid of public speaking and a reluctance of being embarrassed in front of a large group, because a 2022 Lifeway study showed that Americans who identify as Christians will also not talk about Jesus with a small, trusted group. The study found that less than half, only 46% of Christians have shared a bible story or even invited to church a non-Christian loved one. Not strangers, not a large group, and not even a neighbor we barely know, the statistic is about sharing out faith with loved ones. That is an abysmally sad statistic. We believe that Jesus is Lord and Messiah. We believe is the risen one who saves. We believe he offers the forgiveness of sins. We believe that Christ alone has the ability to reconcile us with God so that we may live eternally, and less than half of us are willing to share that good news with people we care about. Friends, do you realize what the cost of our silence might be? Because, just like us the people we know who do not know yet know Jesus will eventually come to the end of their earthly life, and then what?
It is a vital and necessary act of love to preach the gospel. Yet, 54% of self-identifying Christians have not done with the people they know the best. The reason for this is the same reason, why 74% do not want to speak in public: we are afraid. We are afraid to share Jesus with others because we fear we will trip over our words, we will not know what to say, we will offend, or we will get embarrassed. Our reasons for fear can even be valid. There are a lot of ways that trying to talk about Jesus can go sideways. The second pointer we can get from this morning’s scripture address that. When we are fearful about sharing Jesus with others, then we should do it anyway. We should speak the truth we know even if our voice shakes. This is the example we get in this morning’s scripture. As we already established there were a lot of reasons that Peter could have been trembling with feelings of Glossophobia, a fear of public speaking, but despite those reasons he stood and raised his voice.
Chances are the reasons we might have for having trepidations about sharing Jesus with others, especially those we know, are not as scary as they first seem. For instance the same Lifeway study found that 66% of Christians did not feel like they knew what to say to talk about Jesus, but that is not entirely true. If we are talking about a loved one, then we know how to talk them. If we are talking about Jesus, then we know who he is, we can share what God has done in our lives. Sharing Jesus with others does not require a magical formula and it does not require a master’s degree has a prerequisite. We do not need to over complicate this. We just talk about the love of God we already know.
More importantly though, our reasons for being fearful are not as big as they seem for the same reason they were not big enough to hold Peter back in this morning’s scripture. Because if we are in Christ Jesus, then we have the same Holy Spirit promised to us. The Holy Spirit that empowered Peter on that Pentecost morning to preach such a moving message that 3,000 people turned their heart to Jesus, is the same Spirit that can and will empower you to share Jesus with the people you already know.
Everyone is afraid of something, and the reality is that many of us are afraid of sharing the good news of Jesus with others. We can be encouraged then, that one of the consistent messages that we find repeated throughout scripture, is do not be afraid. We can rely on the fact that God is with us and the Holy Spirit can empower us and guide our words. So may we be willing to share our testimony, and may we be willing to proclaim the good news even if we are afraid. May we bold enough to share how Jesus has changed us and how through him forgiven. May we all be willing to preach.