Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Live the Stories

I heard a sermon recently called "Live the Stories". The gist of it was that while the Jews who crossed the Jordan into Israel were not the ones who left Egypt (that whole golden calf incident), the stories of the previous generation were a part of their lived experience because they heard these stories told over and over, and it was very real to them. The application, of course, being that we, too, should make the narratives of the Bible part of our lived experience by immersing ourselves in these stories.

It wasn't so much the content (although it was good) as the presentation that has kept me thinking about this. The sermon was delivered by a PhD student in Homiletics at Vanderbilt who is a very gifted speaker. He did the whole sermon in first person as a child who was born during the 40 years in the desert, and in doing so painted such a vivid word picture that the poetry seemed to seep out of his pores like one who has worked up a great sweat.

While the central message was deep and the presentation artful, I was left unmoved. Perhaps this was just my brain going into academic mode, critiquing his exegesis, or my preacher self sizing up a colleague. Whatever the case, I didn't find myself moved in the way that lets me know I am truly worshiping God.

But when the sermon was over a woman stood up and began to sing "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" a capella (no piano or anything accompanying her). The song paints a very simple picture of Jesus' suffering, and has never really moved me, but this time I absolutely melted. Every inflection in her voice as she sang told us of the pain she felt watching these terrible things happen to Jesus. Even though she was born 2,000 years after the fact, she was there, and she took me with her. I was there when they crucified my Lord.

As God is so fond of doing, I was smacked upside the head with a simple but profound truth. God seems to have given me a gift with words, and I'm usually a little too proud of that fact, showing it off even when no one asks. But in this moment it was not the abundance of artful, poetic language, but the simplicity of an old slave spiritual that transported me back to that day at Calvary. Less turned out to be more.

That day the song was the sermon to me. It was in the song that I began to experience the old, old story as if I had been there.


Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,

I'm really glad you've started actively blogging... Jess emailed me the link to your blog back in the fall and I check it periodically but never any new posts!!

Anyway, I've really enjoyed and appreciated reading your few most recent posts, especially the one about the homeless man in the parking lot. I'd love to talk with you about the work I do with homeless ministry here in Boston... we do a lot of praying with people on the streets, and I know what you mean about feeling weird about it... although after the first time it never really felt weird to me again... I think because of the people I'm with, who just walk with this kind of calm and confidence and assuredness and aren't concerned with people looking at them or whatever -- I think that's contagious or something.

And "Were You There" never fails to get me every time!! Often used at Good Friday services and whatnot; I'm always in tears. It's this basic "simple" message that drew me in to Christianity in the first place, and continues to speak to me even when I'm mired in my academic intellectualism.

A holy Ash Wednesday and Lenten season to you!!


P.S. my blog, which I haven't updated in forever, is at tjammas.blogspot.com

Brett Royal said...

Sometimes the passion gets lost. Those are some rare moments when the spirit moves like that (at least for me). Several years ago I was challenged by a Sunday School teacher to try to become passionately involved when reading the scripture. These are real historical people with real historical feelings, wishes, and desires. Shortly thereafter, I began to read in the Bible about Joseph. How he was betrayed by his brothers and went through very rough times, but in the end it was his brothers who stood before him in their time of need. At that time, it really hit me and I began to weep. Just thinking about it can get me started again. I haven't had the same experience with other passages, but Joseph's story will always stand out for me.