I came to the conclusion a long time ago that I loved public speaking. I loved it because it allowed me to flesh out my ideas and communication tools with real people and get real time feedback about the effectiveness of those tools. Plus, it drove down deep the very truths I was attempting to communicate into my own soul. Add to this the terrifying and encouraging words said by some when they told me something I’d said helped them change their lives, and, well, I was convinced this was what I was called to do.
But that is how it has always been when one’s blessings combine with loving your neighbor as yourself. When that happens you don’t keep it to yourself!
And yet, most people are terrified of public speaking. Some surveys show that most people are afraid of public speaking more than even death. I’m convinced this is probably accurate BECAUSE of how effective good public speaking is in motivating behavior and encouraging action. St. Paul even said “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:21) The public, well delivered, and deeply believed declaration of the message of the Christian faith may look like foolishness to some, but, for centuries, it has drawn men and women to embrace a lifestyle that changes their lives forever!
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Mark 1:16-22. Jesus is, early in His ministry, gathering His disciples and telling them He was going to change them from fishermen to “fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17) He gathers His disciples and then He starts His public preaching and teaching of the Kingdom.
Focus on how the people reacted to His public speaking: And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. Mark 1:21-22
Jesus taught differently than the people were use to hearing. They were use to hearing scholars discuss the finer points of theological ideas. They were use to hearing their teachers speak about the teachings of the Jewish faith in ways that seemed to the regular people to lack conviction and deep belief. But Jesus “taught them as one who had authority.” What an indictment of the religious leaders of the Lord’s day!
So, what do you suppose caused such a stark contrast between the Lord’s preaching and the teachers of the day? Was it content? They were both drawing from the same revelation God had given the Jewish nation through Moses and the Prophets. Was it education? In a population where literacy wasn’t the norm, the scribes and teachers were very well educated. Was it because Jesus was God in the flesh, and who was going to hold a candle to that? Well, the people seemed to be able to tell that the Lord knew what He was talking about, that’s for sure. But I have to believe the Lord’s authority flowed from something much more significant: The difference was between someone who possessed information and Someone Who genuinely loved His hearers! Jesus loved the people He was speaking to and He spoke to them out of a love for them to see them change their lives. And it was the love that produced the power that energized the word!
Today, we will never communicate with power if we don’t truly love the person hearing our words. Good public speaking can be learned. Effective communication skills can be developed even in the most “ungifted” public speaker. But you can’t counterfeit true love! The difference between a good preacher and a great preacher isn’t his cosmetic dentist produced smile. It isn’t his $100 haircut. It isn’t the smoke machine or the special effects budget of his megachurch success. All of those things may satisfy the “cotton candy” cravings of the masses for a short while. But only a deep conviction of the eternal Truth of the Christian Message coupled with a self-sacrificing love for those who’s hungry souls gather to be fed the “Word” will ever be true preaching “as one who has authority.” And that, dearest one, flows always from a heart transfigured by love for God and love for my neighbor. Is that how you communicate your faith in Christ?