These words from the hymn 'O Sacred Head Sore Wounded' formed the title of a book by Brian Wren exploring the use of language in Christian worship. It's all a bit dated now, though much of what he said has still to find its way into public worship in general and hymnody in particular. But every now and then it comes to mind as I find myself pondering what is the 'right', by which I mean 'appropriate', language for various contexts.
Tomorrow I have been invited to speak at a 'Gospel Meeting'... the title says it all really. I am really pleased to have been invited, and I know the cost to the person who has invited me, a woman, to speak in a context where patriarchy reigns in its often rather ungenerous extremes. Just imagine being the coordinator of a meeting, and having invited speakers tell you that you may not even give the announcements because you are a woman... If it were me, I wouldn't invite them back, I can only assume that in this, she is way more gracious than I.
Anyway, language. Hmm. This is a meeting that centres on its weekly altar call, even though the same people are always present and have heard it every week for donkey's years. I don't 'do' altar calls, I fear that they can be counterproductive, leading people to confuse emotion with spiritual awakening. So I have had to find a way to say stuff that includes an invitation to respond to the hope we have in Christ (which is close to an altar call) and also to challenge them to consider what a grounded expression of discipleship might be. A lot of language games and of style games (about half of what I'm saying is direct chunks of Bible!) to say what I feel I can with integrity say in a way that can be heard and received by those who are present.
I think these words, from 1 Peter 3: 15b - 16a, which come near the end of my 'talk' offer me a helpful principle:
Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect.
God works in mysterious ways - the idea that I am speaking in a gospel meeting is quite bizarre, but I pray that gentleness and respect will characterise my speaking and doing.