I don’t recall much about my first intimate sexual encounter. It’s shrouded in the haze of years. Any attempt to recall that experience only dredges up, like mud from a river channel, the remnants of anxiety, excitement, and guilt.
How can the memory of intercourse be so murky while preaching my first sermon remains vivid? Less guilt? More witnesses? Probably. But even more—and here therapists could have a field day with me—I’ve made immense efforts to forget that particular woman. I married her, and we divorced a handful of years later. The legal papers contained rational sentences that described our parting as, “amicable.” I suppose it was friendly, but mostly I felt awful.
Forgiving accompanied forgetting, with more emphasis on the latter.
I recall my mother telling me that giving birth was extraordinarily painful, but immediately forgotten when my older sister, and then me, and finally my younger sister was cradled in her arms. “However,” Mom added with her trademark humor, “if I would’ve remembered how horrible I felt, we’d only had one child.”
Psalm 19 – The 16th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, September 13, 2015
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
I try not to hurry to the end of Psalm 19, but can’t resist because it’s my beginning.
Yes, many of the words before 19’s final verse are memorable. Indeed, the Psalms in their entirety are an extraordinary collection. These vibrant verses, scribed thousands of years ago by persons in places with daily experiences alien to my twenty-first century world, challenge me. The Psalms are fingers wagging in my face, arms enveloping my shoulders, hands pressed together in prayer, and fists threatening my complacency. What of just these words from Psalm 19:7 . . .
The Lord’s instruction is perfect, reviving one’s very being.
The Lord’s laws are faithful, making naive people wise.
Psalm 19 – The 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for September 16, 2012
“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork…” Psalm 19:1
O Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your presence, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I’ve spoken the above prayer—a personally altered version of Psalm 19’s final verse—at the start of (nearly) every sermon I’ve preached.
Using Psalm 19’s conclusion is a nod to the person who most influenced my preaching style. My friend Don Fado also prayed a variation of Psalm 19:14 before his sermons. As a college student, first listening to Don, I admired his enthusiasm and vulnerability while he proclaimed the Gospel. When I became an ordained pastor, I had no qualms about “borrowing” a mentor’s use of a Psalm verse.
Using Psalm 19’s conclusion calms me prior to the unleashing of the sermon’s words. Like latching a seatbelt before driving away, it’s a habit providing security and familiarity. Without a seatbelt, I feel funny…off…incomplete. And for good reason! After all, there’s a greater chance of dying in a car crash than by a lightning strike or bee sting*. Driving a few miles for groceries or across the country can be one of the most dangerous things I do. And yet, I view preaching as a more dangerous activity. Maybe my words won’t prevent or cause bodily harm, but any preacher can craft sentences to heal souls and soothe worries. Preachers also possess the unnerving power to topple over-confident egos or pose sharp-edged Gospel questions to shred the self-serving answers of complacent pew dwellers. If a sermon can’t add to the healing of a troubled heart or pull the rug from under a narcissistic buffoon, why bother to open your mouth? Of course I’m a fool to think I could make a difference in another’s life by stringing together a few thoughts in a sermon. However, I’m a worse fool not to believe I couldn’t. Continue reading →