Monday, August 29, 2005 by niebuhrian
A small red-brick church sat on the corner across from the railroad tracks. The sign above the door read “Byers Community Church – Divine Worship 9:30 A.M. I don’t know about you, but I have never been a part of “divine worship” before, and I am pretty sure that I have never led a “divine worship service.” There is a first time for everything.
We arrived a few minutes early; the person who was supposed to meet us was a few minutes late. The inside of the building was smaller than I expected. White-washed walls were illuminated by cracked stained glass; on one wall hung a picture of “lily-white Jesus” complete with golden halo, herding sheep. People began to arrive shortly after the door opened and I greeted as many as I could.
After robing in the closet-like office, the music started and I returned to my seat. Someone pushed play on a tape player and a drum beat introduced the “contemporary” hymn song of the day. The best thing about contemporary Christian music and songwriting is that 99.9 percent of it will be forgotten.
It is interesting leading worship alone for the first time. You get to do things your way for a change. The placement of the pulpit in this sanctuary was askew, so I decided to step to the center and lead parts of the service, and nobody complained. I almost tripped over my robe at one point and got to laugh about it with the congregation, making sport of my big black polyester gown. It is a good community church, filled with good people. They just happened to hear one of the worst sermons I have ever preached. It started this way…
There was supposed to be a lay reader for the first scripture verse, when no one came forward, it was no big deal. I rose, blindly grabbed a Bible from underneath the pulpit and found the pericope. Unfortunately, I picked up the King James Version. My mind raced as I half translated and hiccupped my way through the garbled passage. I ended saying “This is the Word of the Lord,” expecting to hear a resounding “Thanks be to God.” Instead, I think I could hear crickets chirping in the distance. Apparently, that was not a tradition of this church.
I stumbled through a quick background of the Romans passage and read it without a hitch. Then, I started the sermon during which I stuttered, lost my place at least four times, and skipped ahead a number of times only to repeat myself over again. The sermon content was pretty good and I thought it fit the scripture passage; my delivery was, at best, inept.
When I reflect on what happened, I can pinpoint one difference between this Sunday and all of the rest, the audience. I think I expected to look out and see familiar faces. Instead, everything was new. There were new squirmy children, new scowls to ponder, new eyes in which to find sparks, and new faces to interpret. It felt like I was back at the beginning again. My first sermon was something like this one, only the content was worse. I was telling people whose names I had already forgotten what I thought; and all I wanted was to sit down and blend into the background.
When the service ended, I walked to the back to wish people well on their journeys. A number of comments were made that I’m not sure how to take.
“It’s good to hear the contemporary news make a sermon!” One women exclaimed.
Another women whispered as I passed, “It was nice when you applied the Bible to our lives, I need more of that kind of preaching.”
“I felt like you were talking to me,” said yet another woman.
The men said nothing expect for their desire for a cup of coffee.
My only thought for all of these comments was, “what the hell was the guy before me telling these folks!?”
I am my own worst critic and always will be. I know this. Thankfully, many things happen in worship that are beyond me. That is how it should be. It is not up to me to call upon the holy. I am merely a servant and most of the time not a very good one. God was, is, and will be the one member of all of the services in which I participate. Therefore, wherever I miss a cue, whatever sentence I fumble or whoever sits in front of me God will be the one to reach them. I am just the bumbling messenger.
Today, I awoke to good reviews. Most of the people told Presbytery Executive they enjoyed the service and the sermon. Even my wife liked this one (she thinks I am a buzz-kill when I preach). So, I will return next week and stand and deliver. I will administer communion, but this time I will be among familiar faces and maybe that won’t be so scary. Maybe this time worship will actually feel divine…