‘My name is Fr. Hovnan Demerjian, I have been the pastor of St. Hagop Armenian Church in Pinellas Park, FL for thirteen years. I studied at Boston College, Harvard Divinity School and St. Nersess seminary. I lived and worked in the Republic of Armenia for several years before ordination. I have been married for 17 years to Anna. We have two wonderful kids; Narek and Nora. Clearly, my background makes me the best candidate for mayor of Pinellas Park.’
That, my friends, is my elevator speech. Watch out Sandra Bradbury (current mayor of Pinellas Park)! You probably all know about elevator speeches. They are clear, brief commercials about a person, showing how they benefit a company or constituency. This speech got its name because it is as brief as an elevator ride, and one should be ready to give it anywhere, even in an elevator. This kind of speech is the first language of politicians, so we hear it everywhere these days; on TV, in social media and in our mailbox.
Elevator speeches are not my first language, as you saw. You’re supposed to have these memorized. You’re supposed to be bubbly and enthusiastic. You’re supposed believe in the product you are selling, the product of yourself. I would make a terrible salesperson, and a terrible politician. But when I look at today’s Gospel reading, I am given hope. Because in it, Jesus gives his elevator speech at the very start of his ministry, and he breaks all the rules. Yet, for those with ears to hear, he has given the most impactful speech known to man. Luke tells us what happened in his Gospel:
When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”-Lk 4:16-22
First off, unlike any elevator speech I know of, Jesus says nothing of what he has done and accomplished. But in doing so, he reminds people of the great things God has already done, and what God will do again through Him. Jesus does not sell himself. How can any man sell himself, when his life is on loan from God? Jesus didn’t even write the words, he borrows them from Isaiah! For God spoke the world into existence and has been speaking through his prophets since, there are no new words, only God’s word; his love for the humble, the poor and the sinners, because they are not too full of themselves to be filled by God. Maybe a Christian’s elevator speech shouldn’t be all about what we have done, but of what God has done through us.
Next, unlike any sales pitch I have heard, Jesus does not play his audience, telling people what they want to hear. The people want a mighty savior who will deliver them from Roman occupation, and restore the glory days of God’s chosen people. Jesus says, I have no army, I have no connections, I am friend of the poor and the sinner. And yet, I am, the Savior. Some are amazed and some think he’s crazy. Some are so deeply enraged that after his fifteen second speech, they try to throw him off a cliff! But Jesus knows God and people well enough, to not give people what they want but what they need; even though it cost him his life. Maybe a Christian’s elevator speech should not always tell people what they want to hear, but what they need to hear, even if less people like us for it.
Finally, unlike any politician in history, Jesus did not spend his time projecting a polished image of himself for the masses. Politicians must do this to be elected, and have little time to speak intimately with anyone. Jesus, to the contrary, was unpalatable to almost every crowd, and spent much of his time enthralling any individual who was open to really know him. The great revelations about who Jesus was happened in private to individuals, to a soldier Leontius, to a Samaritan women at the well, to his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus and to the thief next to him on the cross. Maybe a Christian’s elevator speech shouldn’t be carefully polished for mass consumption on social media, but authentic, for those few people we know intimately who are open to hear the great works of God in our lives.
Brothers and sisters, whether we are good at them are not, in this age of elevator speeches, we all need to have one. Yes, because we all need to sell ourselves, to some extent, to make a living in this world. But we also need an elevator speech that will lift us up to the next. Jesus’ first public speech was a model for all us Christians. We are to speak less about our accomplishments, and more about what God has accomplished through us. We don’t just tell people what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. We don’t spend our lives creating a perfect image of ourselves for the masses, but share our deepest selves, warts and all, with a few who have our trust. This type of elevator speech may still be short and sweet, but will last forever, using God’s words to offer our truest self, now and always, amen.