Declare if you know. Interesting word, “Declare”. As in the Declaration of Independence, or the Balfour Declaration. The word suggests speaking with force and clarity, with certainty and intensity.
Some folks do not declare, they merely suggest. They offer timid little ideas and apologize for having dared to harbor a creative thought. One person I know brings up ideas, but they are so hedged around with, “Maybe this isn’t necessary” or “You’ve probably already tried this” that I pay not attention to what he says. It’s a suggestion, but that is not declaring.
Other folks go beyond suggestion, and propose. They think about some issue and come up with a way to solve it. They and are not so timid that you cannot hear them, nor are they so strident that you will not hear them. Some folks do not merely suggest, they propose. I like people with ideas, who propose them; but it’s still not the same as declaring.
And then there are others who neither suggest nor propose, but who announce. There are some folks who do not consult with anyone, but who just announce what they are going to do, take it or leave it, thank you very much. I had a leader in my church at Takoma Park who would conduct a committee meeting by announcing what he had already decided to do. By the way, one day someone on that committee just stood up and did his own announcing – saying that he was not going to stand for that style of leadership any more. But announcing is not quite declaring, either. It doesn’t have that forcefulness.
So while there are some who suggest, timidly; and while there are some who propose ideas; and while there are still others who announce what they are going to do, there is yet another level. There are those who declare. There are those who with force of personality, clarity of language, and the power of the moment, declare. The most vigorous form of communication is to declare. I get to declare occasionally: “By the power vested in me, I do now declare that you are husband and wife”. Or at Takoma Park, we would bring new members in with the “right hand of fellowship”, and I would say, “In the name of the Lord of the church, I declare that you are now in full fellowship with this congregation.” I like doing that. Declare! It communicates confidence, boldness, and certainty.
So Job says to his friends, after listening to their rhetoric, “Declare! Declare if you know.” How about that clause? If you know. Declare, if you know.
You see, Job is aware that just because we say something, that does not mean that we know anything. Just because we are loud, that does not mean we know what we are shouting about. It is said of some politicians that that they are in love with the sound of their own voices. They just keep on talking, whether or not they have anything to say. I suppose some of you would be unkind enough to accuse preachers of the same thing! A humorist, Roy Campbell, described himself that way:
“Of all the clever people round me here
I most delight in me –
Mine is the only voice I care to hear,
And mine the only face I like to see.”
Well, Job felt that his friends were like that; they just talked to hear themselves talk. They approached things not with an open mind, but with an open mouth. They had all sorts of handy-dandy explanations as to why Job was suffering, and all kinds of advice about what to do. But Job found their pronouncements empty, because they had not really experienced what they were telling him. So Job challenged them and challenges us: declare – if you know.
On Palm Sunday, the crowd around Jesus was declaring what they did NOT know. If it is true that the shouts of “Hosanna” turned in only a few days to the cries of “Crucify”, then you see that all this exuberance, all this energy, is only a front, and nothing lies behind it. Like Job’s friends, who said what they said with such emphasis, but who had never really experienced life the way Job had, with all its pain and anguish, now the crowd around Jesus, that day in Jerusalem, is just “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
Declare if you know. Sometimes we declare ourselves precisely because we do not know. Sometimes we make pronouncements to cover the fact that we have no idea what we are talking about. A pastor friend of mine said that he didn’t prepare his sermons ahead of time because he didn’t know what he thought until it came out of his mouth! Imagine that: declaring what you have not reflected on, preaching what you have not thought about, teaching what you have not experienced. I do understand: some of the best funeral sermons I’ve preached were for people I didn’t know, so I could be very forceful, since my mind was not cluttered up with messy facts!
But listen again to Job’s challenge: Declare if you know, and only if you know. On Palm Sunday, that crowd, shouting “Hosanna” and “Hallelujah” for someone they scarcely understood – what happens when we just open our mouths and let come out whatever comes out, whether we know anything or not?
Well, some of us will just declare whatever the going thing is. We will get caught up in the mood of the moment, and out comes whatever the crowd is saying. If the crowd around us is for something, we are for that thing too. If yesterday the crowd around us was for Georgetown, then we too cheered for Georgetown – sadly, to no avail, wait ‘til next year! But what if you had been in a bunch of Buckeyes? Would you have gone for them instead? It’s easy to do – to declare only the mood of the moment.
A generation ago, a crowd in Germany screamed, “Heil Hitler”, and all too many, even church people, echoed, “Heil Hitler”. Some will just declare what is popular at the moment, unless they know more. And so if Jesus is popular we’ll shout Hosanna. If it’s comfortable to be a Christian, we’ll wave the palm branches. But if we do not really know Him, how long will that last? Some of us declare the mood of the moment; but that’s not good enough.
Or, some of us will shout whatever our prejudices are. In the heat of the moment, if you declare without knowing, you will declare nothing but undigested, unexamined prejudice. A young friend of mine told me that he had been searching for a job. There was one employer who interviewed him three times over the phone, seemed very excited, called him in to visit – but when they got together, the boss’s face fell and he said, “You have great credentials, your experience is fine, but your appearance is not what we wanted.” Your APPEARANCE? What was that about? I’ll give you a hint: it could not have been about hair or clothing or cleanliness. Is there an equal employment opportunity officer in the house? Some of us declare prejudices if we do not know the truth.
I am pretty sure that much of the crowd on that Palm Sunday hosannaed Jesus as a way of spitting at Pilate. They cheered Jesus the Jewish king in order to slap at Caesar the Roman emperor. They declared nothing more than their prejudices, for they did not know Jesus or what He stood for. They knew only what they were against. And that’s not good enough. It is only a small inflection from the shout of “hosanna” to the cry of “crucify.” Prejudices have a way of turning nasty.
So Job has called his friends’ bluff. Declare if you know. Over and over again they have said what they have to say, as if just saying the same old thing over and over makes it true. I am told that the Tennessee legislature, back in the 1920’s, passed a law declaring the value of pi, if you remember your geometry, to be an even 3 instead of 3.14159! It was easier that way! Well, Tennessee can pass all the laws it wants, but that does not change reality! Job called his noisy friends’ bluff and Job’s God made them face reality:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know!”
What do you really know? Where were you when God made it all happen? Dripping sarcasm, the text says, “Surely you know!” But they didn’t, and we don’t either. We repeat our nostrums, loud and long, and hope that will stick.
But I tell you, even hosannas, often repeated, are not the same thing as knowing Christ. Palm branches, piled high and deep, are not the same thing as trusting Christ personally. The Jerusalem crowd’s devotion was as thin as ice, and it soon melted away. Declare if you know, and only if you know. Cry hosanna only if you know Jesus and know what He is about.
For we substitute noisy religion for knowing Jesus. Job’s friends were very religious. They had an airtight theology. But they had never experienced what he was going through. Their religion was just theory. And the crowd in Jerusalem had its own expectations. I expect they knew the Bible and all about donkeys and palms. But they had never really sensed the heart of Jesus. They knew nothing of His compassion, they felt nothing of His desire to suffer for their sins. It was easy to be boisterously religious; it was not so easy to know Jesus. Declare if you know; it’s not the same thing as being religious.
Or we substitute activity for knowing Jesus. We talk about how involved we are in the church. But that’s not the same thing either. I hear about people who used to be Mr. and Mrs. Everything at somebody’s church, but who got their feelings hurt and don’t do diddly anymore. I guess it is a lot easier to sing in the Hosanna choir and to be chair of the Palm Branch committee than it is to listen to the very heart of Jesus. “Busy, busy Baptist, busy as a bee; filling up the calendar, but what’s inside to see?”. Oh, don’t waste the effort, don’t squander the time. Do church only if you know Him; declare if you know.
And we even substitute charity for knowing Jesus. We’ll even put ourselves out for others, and that’s all to the good, but doing good for others is no substitute for knowing Jesus personally. The crowd lay down their garments, they gave the very clothes off their backs. But what did it get them, but cloaks marked with the footprints of a donkey, when they could have felt the very footprints of Jesus on their souls. They depended on acts of charity to save them, when they ought to have confessed that their righteousness was as filthy rags. Oh, brothers and sisters, do not suppose that how good you are, how much money you give, or how many times you go to church earn you a place in the Kingdom. Declare if you know, if you know Christ.
Do you know Jesus as an intimate, personal presence? Is He merely an idea, or is He your heart’s boon companion? Declare if you know; be sure you know Him.
But oh, my brothers and sisters, if you do know Him, then declare His love to friends and neighbors, to family and coworkers. If you do know Him, then declare His compassion to the lost of this community, declare His mercy to the broken of this city. If you do know Him, declare His salvation to a needy nation and a wandering world. Declare if you know, boldly, confidently, forthrightly. Declare -- if you know.