Sermon Illustrations on Signs
Receiving the Message
When the telegraph was the fastest means of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, noisy office. In the background a telegraph clacked away. A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.
The young man completed his form and sat down with seven other applicants. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. The other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. Why had this man been so bold? They muttered among themselves that they hadn’t heard any summons yet. They took more than a little satisfaction in assuming the young man who went into the office would be reprimanded for his presumption and summarily disqualified for the job.
Within a few minutes the young man emerged from the inner office escorted by the interviewer, who announced to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has been filled by this young man.”
The other applicants began grumbling. Then one spoke up saying, “Wait a minute — I don’t understand something. He was the last one to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That’s not fair.”
The employer said, “I’m sorry, but all the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse code: ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. So the job is his.”
Gary Preston, Character Forged from Conflict, Bethany.
Reflecting on Shusaku Endo’s Novel and Film, Silence
In Silence, Shusaku Endo writes of the journey of Portuguese Jesuits journeying to Japan. It is a conversation about those who intend to take the path of Jesus, only to find they are on the path of Judas. It elevates a faith lived out in real world struggle, over the theological proclamations of the ivory tower.
Silence deals with the public space in which faith is lived out. It is a myth that the Christian faith is a private one—Christian faith is embodied at the shared table, the community of worship, the proclamation of faith, and baptism.
In a subtle way, the public expression of faith is often taken as a reflection of the inner state of faith. What outward and individualized signs do we use to legitimize a person’s faith–the ability to sign the right faith statement, the doctrinal alignments, association with certain communities of faith, a stance on a current issue. Silence challenges the ability for outward expressions, to adequately reflect internal faith. But it also calls us to interrogate the idea of an individualized faith.
Silence introduces readers to some of the eternal questions of faith that transcend cultures and peoples. But embedded in the work are powerful observations that challenge the cultural assumptions that we accidentally bring, unknowingly, and overlay onto the faith.
Acting without reflecting on the implications of our cultural point of view to our expressions of faith can be dangerous, even deadly. And it is this much needed space for cultural reflection that Silence provides brilliantly.
The Office Sign
Sometimes we become so lonely, we’ll do whatever we can to have some social interaction. Vulgar and with a quick wit, Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) was a significant short-story writer and social critic. At one point in her career, Parker had a cramped, dingy office in the Metropolitan Opera House (in New York City), and unsurprisingly, few people would come and visit her. She became lonely and depressed until she worked up the courage to do something about it. When it was time for the sign writer to paint her name on the office door, she had him write “GENTLEMEN” instead.
Stuart Strachan Jr.