I am starting my second week of quarantine in Latvia. I am able to go out for a walk which has given me some fresh air, exercise and time to think.
Going for a walk in England often involves passing the time of day with someone we know and saying “hello” to a number of people we do not know at all. It is possible in England to meet someone with a dog and in no time share your life story.
That does not tend to happen here. Latvia is not a naturally chatty nation.
What are we to make of small talk?
I came across the following article about chat written by a New Zealander in the UK:
“Chat isn’t just chat in New Zealand, it’s connection, possibly the only social interaction of a person’s day, if they are isolated, out of work or lonely. I have been all of those things, and I have valued casual exchanges as proof that I’m still human, still worth talking to, when my feelings and mind seem to be telling me otherwise.”
Well that does put a different slant on chat or small talk.
These tiny exchanges help people connect. They remind some people that they are of value and are worth the effort of thinking of something to say. These bits of chat can be a lifeline.
It is worth learning the skills of making a connection with others. Learning to say hello, taking an interest, finding ways to ask questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or a “no”. Try it sometime. You might just make someone’s day.
Such casual interactions are also stepping-stones for moving from small talk to big talk. I have often said in my sermons that: “You cannot talk to people about Jesus unless you talk to people”.
This is one of the features I love about Jesus. In the Gospels we see him speaking to crowds but also to individuals. Jesus was a man on a mission, he lived a short life, his ministry was brief and focussed.
Yet, we read in John that he takes a detour to a well to meet a needy individual. Jesus breaks the social taboos of the day by speaking to a woman who is a Samaritan. Jesus uses terms she can understand; water, longing and relationships. The small talk leads to big talk and prompts her to speak about Jesus to everyone she meets.
This story reminds me of a Twitter feed I was following this week about preaching.
The feed suggested that it was not good when preaching to tell stories merely to provide light relief in the sermon. Such chatter was perceived to be a distraction from the more important things in Scripture. Clearly the use of stories to soften people up or provide a bit of padding for the sermon can be gratuitous and tiresome. Yet, we must remember that preaching is not merely tossing out ideas and concepts; these concepts need to be rooted in everyday life.
Do you remember what Jesus said?
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows”. (Matthew 10:29–31)
Jesus knew the price of two sparrows. Preacher- do you know the price of milk or a loaf of bread? Preachers need to learn how to use the small change of life to speak to the big things of life. Jesus uses an item on a shopping list to show that the finest details of our lives are known by God.
Preaching invites the hearer into the preacher’s world. How the preacher speaks reveals whether they have entered the hearer’s world.