Presbyterians spend a lot of time on statements of belief.  We make them in baptisms, like we will this morning, as well as when we welcome new members and when our young people are confirmed.  We have a whole book of confessional statements that are part of our church’s constitution—our guiding principles; and when we ordain ministers, elders, and Deacons, we ask them to affirm a long list of statements of belief.

Every year when we train a new class of church officers, therefore, I spend some time talking to them about why we ask them to make these public declarations, and we talk about how to be comfortable doing so.  After all, many of us have misgivings about the content of some of these statements, or about saying what we believe out loud.  We are not sure about affirming the authority of the Bible—a book that says some pretty strange things—or about what exactly it means to affirm the essential tenets of the Reformed faith.  These are concepts that are often unfamiliar.  So I have an analogy I draw upon.

I once read a book by a professor named Tom Long who claimed that statements of belief function much like telling someone, “I love you.”  (see Long, Thomas, Testimony:  Talking Ourselves into Being Christian, 2003).  When we are new in a relationship, and want to be truly close to the other person, at some point, we take a chance and for the first time say, “I love you.”  Not only are we nervous about what the other will say back, but we really don’t know ourselves the fullness of what the words mean.  If the relationship stays and grows, we will find that saying “I love you” comes to mean something quite different after 5, 20, or 50 years of marriage, and when it carries with it shared experiences of raising children, blending families, or enduring loss together.  Sometimes we learn that “I love you” means falling away or letting go.  Over the course of a life together, “I love you” is a phrase that means so many, many things.  But if we don’t have the courage to say it the first time, we’ll never discover any of the rest.

That, wrote Tom Long, is how statements of belief work.  That’s what its like to affirm out loud things like, “Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord,” or that “I renounce sin and its power in the world,” or that “I place my trust in Jesus Christ and promise to be obedient to his way of life.”  We don’t really know what these things mean when we first say them.  Do any of us really place our undivided trust in Jesus enough to claim him as our only Savior and Lord?  Do we trust him more than our savings accounts, or our own sense of self-reliance?  Do any of us truly renounce sin?  Have we entirely given up on violence and revenge, or on power as a means of control and substances as a means of comfort?  Are any of us fully obedient to the extravagant demands Jesus makes of those who would be his disciples?  Are we prepared to always walk the extra mile, and love our neighbor as we love ourselves?  We don’t know what these words of faith mean.  We chuckle when a15 year-old boy cries “but Mom, Jenny and I are in love!”  But anyone who tells you they really understand what these confessions really mean is at least as foolish. Yet even though we don’t really know what these belief mean, Christians throughout time have been convinced that saying them out loud is important, because when we do, we’re forced to think about what they mean for us, and we start a journey.  It’s like saying “I love you” for the first time.

Mother’s Day is a good day to remember the importance of saying things out loud.  The greeting cards, the flowers, the brunch after church, each of these gestures is important, but what parent doesn’t want to hear the words of thanks that so often go unsaid.  Thank you, Mom, for all the early mornings, late nights, and sleepless worrying that you’ve endured for my sake.  Thank you for the countless hours of chauffeuring me around, the laundry and cooking, taking care of me when I was sick, going without something nice for yourself so that I could get that thing I needed, loving me still when I as a teenager I treated you like so much garbage.  Saying these things out loud makes a difference to parents, doesn’t it?

Equally important is saying out loud that Mother’s Day isn’t a happy occasion for all—for many it’s a day of grief.  On this day, many among us are aware of estranged and broken relationships; others among us are thinking of parents—or, God forbid, children, who have died.  Infertility, and miscarriages, and all kinds of heartbreak are also a part of this day.  And it’s always necessary to say so out loud here in church, because you’re certainly not going to find sensitivity to those things in a gift shop.

Saying things out loud doesn’t fix everything.  Saying thank you to Mom doesn’t change the fact that you were once an ungrateful teenager; acknowledging the pain of an estranged relationship doesn’t mean that it is no longer painful.  But when we speak about these things out loud, we start to understand each other better, and grow in love.  Speaking out loud doesn’t fix everything, but it’s a start.

Saying things out loud is important to human relationships, and doing so is also foundational to faith in God.  That’s why so many of our Scriptures talk about praise to God—we’re supposed to grow our faith by talking out loud about the things that God has done for us.  So today’s psalm begins, “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth.”  “Let the sound of God’s praise be heard.”  “I will come into your house with…offerings…I will pay you my vows…Come and hear, all of you who fear God, and I will tell you what God has done for me…”

What must it be like for our heavenly Parent, our Mother God, to hear us utter these words?  If God is like a mother, it must be amazing when we offer our praise, an incredible affirmation that, after all these years, all the love God showed us had its impact.  We are growing into the grateful, humble, faithful people our Creator always hoped we might become.

And yet, of course, God doesn’t need for us to say these things—God will be okay without words of praise and thanks.  But saying them out loud is also good for us.  When we praise and thank God, we remind ourselves of just how fortunate and blessed we have been, and revive in ourselves a greater sense of gratitude for the life we’ve been given.  We remind ourselves of how foolish and ungrateful and flawed we have been on so many occasions, and restore in ourselves an appropriate sense of humility at how helpless we are, and how much we need God.  And who doesn’t need a little more gratitude and humility in life?

There are plenty of ways to speak our praise.  We do it through music—the beautiful sounds we make through voice and instrument no doubt remind God of our gratitude.  We speak with our actions, and the living of good and selfless lives no doubt gives joy to God.

And yet saying the words is important too—even if its sometimes a bit uncomfortable or unfamiliar, its worth it.

That’s because, yes, it is true, many of us say we prefer not to talk about our faith—we’d rather let our actions speak for us.  But if we always rely on our actions so speak about God, we’d better be really well behaved.  So, while actions may speak louder than words, words are important also.

And yes, I know, many of us are not naturally included toward being evangelical.  It doesn’t come easily for us to talk about faith among our coworkers or neighbors, and in fact, it makes us uncomfortable when others to it.  On the other hand, keeping our faith a secret—especially if we find it faith really important in our own lives—is actually a rather selfish thing to do.  If God has been good to us; if that goodness has made our lives more joyful, shouldn’t we try to find a way to share it?   Perhaps we could be just a bit more brave about inviting someone we know to join us to meet some of our friends from church, or to come sing with us some Sunday.  Perhaps when someone notices that we seem to have joy in life and confidence that things will work out when times are hard, perhaps we can be more willing to say that, for us, God has played a part in that.

The irony of Mother’s Day is its reminder that while its good to tell our moms thank you today, the game changer would be to be more grateful the other 364 days of the year as well, and so it is with faith.  Some of us aren’t sure how to pray, or why.  In my own life, I have found it instantly helpful to begin each day with a few minutes of thanking God for the blessings she has given me.  To leave my phone aside, to wait to check the news, to wake a few minutes early while it is still quiet, take a few breaths, and name my blessings at the start of each day.  Precisely because I’m not perfect and I don’t get this done every morning, I know how much difference it makes when I do.

So I commend to you, take a few minutes to consider for yourself, and to name out loud before God, the blessings of your life, and the things for which you are thankful.  Make a joyful noise the Lord, let the sound of God’s praise be heard, tell those who will listen what God has done for you.  Say I love you, for the first time; it may change your life.  Amen.