I met St. Francis of Assisi in Mr. Moran's Church History class. I remember sitting in the back corner of the room and hearing this quote:
Preach the gospel always, when necessary, use words
Isn't that great?
But there's a myth and a misunderstanding in this maxim. The myth: "You can preach the gospel and never use words." The misunderstanding: "Non-verbal gospel communication trumps verbal communication."
The gospel stands primarily as a story: not a formula, message, moral code or way of life. All those things - formulae, messages, codes and ethics - create curiousity about the gospel, but they are not the gospel.
You can't deduce the story about Jesus from the natural order.
If our good lives could tell the story of Jesus, Matthew and Mark and Luke and John could have saved their creative talents for more useful projects. As I read through Matthew, I'm struck by the details he decides to communicate to his readers. Details slow the narrative, complicate it. But the story was necessary.
We like to think that the gospel can be preached without words because the thought of preaching frightens us. We fear to sound condescending. We fear to sound judgemental. We fear to sound foolish.
But perhaps love can drive out fear.