St. Francis of Assisi was a renowned religious figure of the 13th century and is credited with developing many profound sayings and prayers. One quote attributed to St. Francis includes, “The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.” This saying stresses the importance of how our actions must be consistent with what we believe.
St. Francis was a man devoted to action and helping others. He felt it was important to strive for justice among our fellow humans. His life and his sayings have been influential to the Church of the Brethren especially in the 20th century. This was a time in which we spearheaded many projects of serving others that have had a long-lasting impact locally and globally. Such projects include Brethren Volunteer Service, Heifer Project, CROP (Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty), and Disaster Relief Ministries. Such projects have helped a small denomination such as the Church of the Brethren to make its mark on the world. However, such projects have acquired a certain degree of criticism. The challenge has been that the Brethren spend a great deal of time serving others, thus neglecting their relationship with God and Jesus Christ. In recent years the criticism has been couched in semantic terms to the effect that the Brethren spend too much time “doing” for others and not enough time “being” with God. In some cases, this criticism has taken on an either/or sentiment. However, I have always believed that it is necessary to see our service to others and our relationship to God as a both/and proposition. They both feed into each other and they are both interconnected.
It certainly is possible to allow our efforts to serve others to overshadow our relationship with God and Christ. At the same time it is equally possible to allow our emphasis on our relationship with God and Jesus to overshadow our need to serve others. The key is striking a balance between the two that fosters a both/and connection. If we have a strong relationship with God we will then want to engage in service to others.
A sermon is a word from God and if we are in touch with God, sermons will flow through us. And as St. Francis of Assisi indicated, a sermon does not necessarily consist of solely words. A sermon can undeniably be deeds put into action. It is quite possible and perhaps necessary that people understand the essence of our relationship with God through the deeds we perform in this world. St. Francis may very well be right in that the deeds we do may be the only sermon that some people will hear today. Let us proclaim the gospel through word and deed.