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In Praise of Tittle-Tattle: A Sermon

In Praise of Tittle-Tattle

How the Gospel Came to Spread

Sermon at St John the Baptist, FelixstoweSunday 9 April 2023 – Easter Day

Text:  ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ (Matthew 28.10 – full lection Matthew 28.1-10)

God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.

‘I’m going to tell on you!’ screeched my first ever girlfriend, (well at least I thought she was my girlfriend),  so loudly that silence descended over the whole of the playground.  The duty teacher marched over and, arms akimbo, stared down at me demanding to know which heinous crime I had committed.  Eyes brimming with tears, and lip quivering I stutter out, ‘Please Miss, I only pulled her pigtails a little bit…’  Detention followed for the afternoon break time and I found myself staring out of the classroom window at my ‘girlfriend’ and her cronies laughing and pulling faces at me.  Needless to say I broke off the engagement.  After all nobody likes someone who tells tales do they?

But then you grow up a little and tables are turned.  You find yourself at Boarding School were the need to be part of the ‘in crowd’ is so urgent that trying to do the right thing becomes almost impossible.  This is not, you understand, tittle-tattle about hair pulling but reporting rule breaking and finding solid ground on which to build your life.  How do you tell the truth when the consequence for a classmate is, as was common then, corporal punishment or even expulsion?  Adolescence is a lonely enough journey without ostracism being added to it.  Rather keep quiet.  Rather tell a little white lie.  ‘No sir, I didn’t see anything’ and ‘It wasn’t me, matron’.  Learning to keep schtum is a useful skill if you don’t want to find yourself perpetually loitering on the outskirts of Coventry.  Decades later old school friends may come and say, ‘thanks for speaking up Dotch’ which helps heal some very old wounds but doesn’t deal with the damage done of being shunned by others.

No, Andrew, rather keep quiet.  Sit at the back of the classroom of life and learn to keep your big mouth shut.  Telling tales, be it truth telling or tittle-tattle will get you noticed and then you might have to say what you saw and stand for the truth instead of settling for a quiet life.  

Things came to a head in this teenage life when working in a Chippy next to a roundabout in Gosport.  A car ran the junction and crashed into a motor bike.  All my co-workers were gawking at what had happened until the Old Bill arrived seeking witness statements.  Two workers ducked into the storeroom, one shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Didn’t see nuffin’ Guv’ which left an even lonelier teenager to tell the tale, take a day away from school in Ipswich to appear in Gosport Magistrates Court, swear on the Bible, and promise to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’.  I returned to school late that night hungry – I didn’t know I could claim the price of a sandwich and a cuppa for attending court – but I also returned fuller and more whole.  

This served me well when our family moved to South Africa, where the truth about the evils of Apartheid, kept quiet for too long, needed to be shouted from rooftops.  Protest marches with fellow clergy, being faced down by rifle waving troops, dreaded knocks on the door of the vicarage from members of the Security Police followed.  Was it frightening?  I was scared witless to the point that, if I received an unexpected parcel in the post, I would wait until the family had left the Rectory to open it for fear that it was a parcel bomb and I would lose my hands and an eye as did my friend Fr Michael Lapsley.

To choose to tell the truth should be our daily aspiration.

Living the truth, as the Bible reminds us, will set us free.

Being truthful and honest is the only way we can become fully human.

Why then is it so difficult to ‘go and tell’ the truth?

Far far too often we choose to not tell the truth.

Too often we hide behind a conspiracy of silence.

Too often it is tempting to see an injustice as someone else’s problem and so we say nothing.

Too often we forget John Donne’s words that ‘No man is an island’ and forget that disaster for any member of our human family is a disaster for every member of the human family.

I know why I haven’t always told the truth.  It’s the same reason why, even to this day, every time I am challenged to be truthful I still hesitate before being a witness to the truth.

I am frightened.

Not so much of the fear of physical hurt, that only touches my body.

I am frightened of being shunned.

I am frightened of people dropping their voices when they see me.

I am frightened of people crossing the road when I walk towards them.

I am frightened, as I was when in my teenagehood, of being alone.

‘It’s all very well, Andrew’, you may be saying as you’ve been listening to these words, ‘to hear about your own journey what has this got to do with the rest of us?’  After all what on earth has my fear and angst got to do with the joy of Easter Day?  Here the words at the end of today’s Gospel.

…they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’  (Matthew 28.8-10)

Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid…

Have you ever wondered why Jesus tells the women to not be frightened to tell the Good News of God’s love?  

They are overflowing with ‘great joy’ so why does fear march alongside it?  

Surely there is nothing here about which to be frightened?

Who wouldn’t want to shout it from the rooftops that their friend and Master had defeated death?

Why wouldn’t the women and the disciples tell everyone they meet?

But there was fear.  And not just amongst the women.  Next Sunday we will hear how the disciples locked themselves away ‘for fear of the Jews’.  Holding the gift of Eternal Life in their hands, they hide the Light of the World under a bushel basket.

Thankfully, for the world and for everyone of us here, that fear was vanquished with the advent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

And now it is our turn…

For when Jesus says to the women at the empty tomb, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell’  He speaks to us as well.  We are the ones who must learn to conquer our fears, in whatever form they come to us, and ‘go and tell’ our brothers and sisters and others about the Good News of God’s love for them.

Peter, the chief of the then fear-filled disciples says this to us;

‘Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is within you’ (1 Peter 3.15)

However the Good News is passed on by our deeds as well as our words.  This ‘go and tell’ must needs become a ‘Show and Tell’ as well.  The Letter to James (James 2.15-17) reminds us, living a Gospel life is not only about ‘talking the talk’but also about ‘walking the walk’. 

Today, in the light of Easter and the joy of the Resurrection, we renew our Baptismal Promises.  Together we will say;

I turn to Christ.

I repent of my sins.

I renounce evil.

Today, then, is perhaps the best of all days to commit ourselves to put away our fear and commit ourselves to become people who ‘Go and tell’ our sisters and brothers, our friends and our neighbours and even those who hate us, of the joy that is theirs to claim at the entrance of the empty tomb.

This blog ‘In Praise of Tittle-Tattle’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2023.  It may be reproduced free of charge on condition that the source is acknowledged.

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