They say that travel broadens the mind. Well, it can certainly give you some fresh insights into things and you can discover things that you didn’t know before. This won’t be a long blog as I’m on a few days annual leave with some friends visiting Lisbon. To those who see me on Twitter you may have caught some of the photos of places that we have been to. I hadn’t been to Portugal before and so this has been a real treat. I had had the famous custard tarts before, the ‘pasteas de nata’, there is quite a large Portuguese community in Stockwell in south London and so I had already tasted one. But eating it here was a real treat.
So sardines, custard tarts, port and other delicacies make this a great place to come to and so do the churches. What I was surprised to discover, however, was that St Anthony of Padua was actually born in Lisbon. I thought he was Italian but I was wrong. So going into the Cathedral in Lisbon and finding there the font in which he was baptised was a real joy. What was even more splendid was to see the tiles around the font that told part of his story.
Lisbon is full of wonderful tiles that adorn the fronts of houses, sometimes covering the whole facade, sometimes just smaller panels. The tiles decorate bars and restaurants, churches, the streets, they are superb. Some, like the one showing a monkey with a pair of spectacles on a house in a back street, are quirky and sheer fun, some deeply serious and a record of Portugese life.
But next to the font in the Cathedral is a wall on which the tiles show Anthony preaching, but in this case preaching to the fish. It is a young St Anthony before he travelled from Portugal to Italy where his powerful preaching gained him his reputation. But here, as a young man, he is learning and exercising his craft. The fish have their heads poking out from the water listening attentively.
I suppose part of the rationale of the legend is a response to the commission to the disciples when they were called from their boats and their nets at the lakeside and told by Jesus that they would now ‘fish for people.’ (Luke 5.10) Here is Anthony living that out, preaching the word, preaching Christ. It is an image that is both fun and has so much truth in it.
There was a report the other day I heard about a preaching competition, for ‘Preacher of the Year’ I think it was. What we each want of a sermon, whether we’re the preacher or preached at, will be different. But I’m a great believer in the power of the sermon, in the power of rhetoric and the importance of spending time on it to get it right.
The psalmist says, and St Paul quotes this particular psalm of course
‘Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’ (Ps 19.4)
The baptistery in Lisbon reminds us that the ‘fish’, the people of God, need to hear the word and hear it expounded and proclaimed.
God of the living Word, inspire those who preach and those who hear, that you word may live through us and in us, that the world may believe. Amen.