I don’t think anyone expected that the most powerful speech at the Democratic Convention last week would be delivered by a 13-year-old boy most of America had never heard of.
They’ve heard of him now.
His name is Brayden Harrington.
Thursday night the New Hampshire teenager spoke to the nation, and the world, on television. That would be hard enough for anyone. But Brayden Harrington was not anyone. He began by describing how he met Joe Biden when he was on a campaign stop in New Hampshire. “He told me we were members of the same club,” Brayden said. “We stutter.”
For the next two minutes, Brayden spoke. It wasn’t easy. He struggled. He wrestled with simple words. He stammered. The effort was at times hard to watch. But he didn’t let that stop him. In the end, what the world saw was someone who conquered his fear and his mistakes, to speak what was in his heart.
It was a remarkable moment that moved people across the political spectrum.
Kelleyanne Conway tweeted after: “Way to go, Brayden.”
Conservative commentator Rod Dreher wrote a column the next day that called him, simply, a hero: “I had tears in my eyes watching that brave kid struggle to say his words,” Dreher wrote. “Tears, because I know from raising a boy who stutters how much courage and grit it took for him to stand before a camera and give that message.”
And Dan Rather spoke for a lot of us when described the moment as “pure, unvarnished courage.”
Brayden Harrington is a modern profile in courage — showing us very simply and plainly what that means in our own times.
It means the courage to speak, when it would be easier to be silent.
It means the courage to step forward, when it would be easier to stay back.
It’s the courage to do what you don’t think you can and do it anyway.
It’s the courage of speaking up and speaking out.
And this Sunday, that kind of courage challenges us all, with a Gospel message — and a question — that makes all of us look deeply at who we are and what we believe and how we proclaim that to the world.
I was struck by one line in this weekend’s Gospel. It isn’t something Jesus does or says.
It’s something he doesn’t say.
When addressing his apostles, and hearing what others are saying about him, he doesn’t ask, “Who do you think that I am?”
He asks, instead: “Who do you say that I am?”
It’s a question about faith. About living the faith. About witnessing to Jesus Christ.
Jesus is asking his followers: What do you proclaim out loud? What do you show the world?
Peter, of course, knew the answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
That stands across history as a great profession of faith — coming just two Sundays after we heard about Peter trying, and failing, to walk on water. “O you of little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt?”
From that moment forward, Peter found his faith. He had the courage to put it into words.
But what about us?
This Sunday, Jesus stands before each of us and asks, “Who do you say that I am?”
He doesn’t ask us what we think, what we ponder, what we speculate.
He asks us: What do you say?
What do we proclaim — not just with our words, but with our actions?
What do we announce to others — by how we live and what we say — about Jesus Christ?
Do we honor God with the way we live our lives?
Do we make clear that we are people of faith, hope and charity? That we follow the Christ of compassion and forgiveness, of justice and mercy?
In a violent and unjust world, what do we say? Do we stand up for the victimized, the vulnerable, the weak? Do we defend the defenseless? The unborn, the persecuted, the poor? Do we give a voice to the ones who might be too afraid to speak up, the ones who have no one to speak for them?
Do we have the courage of Peter, the courage to profess our faith?
I think this morning about two powerful words that Brayden Harrington spoke: “We stutter.”
The fact is: in a way, we all do. We are all imperfect. We struggle with limitations, weakness, fears, frailties, sin.
Like Peter, we can doubt. We can let fear overwhelm us. We can sink when we try to walk.
But that doesn’t have to define us. That doesn’t have to be the end of the story.
The great call of our lives as Christians is the call to live as disciples of Christ in spite of all that. It is a call to go out into the world and proclaim the Good News daily — to speak and live the Gospel even when it is hard, and to let God’s grace work through us to do the rest.
Despite its setting and its circumstances, Brayden Harrington’s powerful message wasn’t really a political one. It was a human one. It was a message of resilience and encouragement. A message of possibility and hope.
As that young man reminded us — and as Simon Peter proved two millennia ago — we are more than our mistakes.
This morning, as we prepare to receive the Eucharist, we pray, “Lord I am not worthy…speak but the word and my soul will be healed.”
We all need that. We all hunger for that. We want to be better.
As we ask the Lord to heal our souls, we pray as well for the grace to be his voice in the world — and ask for the courage to speak, the courage to persevere, and to become the disciples he wants us to be.
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