"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer." Some pastors, or clergy in general, say those words out loud before they get into their sermon, meaning the better ones, of course, do that. But honestly there's a part of me that isn't such a huge fan of that. The cynical side of me says those pastors are trying to convince their respective congregation that what they are about to say is approved by God (no doubt about it), that their words are somehow divinely inspired; that their sermon is almost as if God is speaking directly to you through their own mouth.
But on the other hand, maybe the humble pastor is simply asking for some divine assistance to make the proclamation come to life a little better, reach the people a little more deeply. Maybe it's nothing more than a simple prayer at the last minute; and, by the way, all of us preachers need all the prayers we can get for having the audacity to stand up in front of you and, quite frankly, week after week, "preach to the choir." But we do exactly that because we've been told in no uncertain terms, "that's how you get 'em to sing."
Nevertheless, after saying all that, I still don't plan on starting any sermon in the future asking God for my words to be acceptable. First of all, I admit it: I get it wrong from time to time. I can sit there in front of my computer screen and stare at the Scripture and sermon for hours on end, swing for the fences, and do nothing but whiff at thin air. I may have gone to college and seminary for eight years combined, but truly I tell you, I am no better than any of you.
After all, all of you have stories to share. All of you have your own experiences with how God has shown up in your life. All of you have struggled, endured, persevered with the grace of God in the process. And sometimes we have spoken to God directly about those times: when someone we adore continues to suffer with pain and doctors can't seem to find the right medicine to help. Other times we refuse to even consider asking God for help after far too many prayers have gone unanswered: begging God to help a friend find the right job, the right home.
And so we pastors often preach to a choir of strained voices after weary experiences and yet still muster the strength to show up to worship in faith no matter how rough the week, month, life has been. However, maybe God just uses us pastors to preach to the choir week after week so that you never, ever stop singing: never stop singing all the songs that flow through your heart and mind, whether sad or angry or happy and joyful and everything in between.
The irony behind the words taken from the Psalm this morning, of asking the words and meditations to be acceptable to God, is that they are already more than acceptable. God loves to hear our voices. God cherishes the prayers, and God even adores the times when we don't speak directly to our Rock and Redeemer. God knows our innermost thoughts whether we like it or not. And so we lift up our voices, sometimes at the top of our lungs in frustration with God after continuing to witness a world that reels in violence day after day after day. And we cry out, "How much longer?" Nevertheless, there is intermixing of songs of praise and thankfulness for all the blessings that come along as well: spending a day with a grandchild or a phone call from a close friend.
We bring it all before God, and that's what God absolutely craves: when we hold nothing back. This is a God Who knows the most intense struggle this world had to give: a world that needed saved. And God was so determined that Jesus lived through all the struggles: all the frustrations with close friends not listening to Him, strangers cursing His name for how He acted, coworkers in ministry betraying Him, and yet still out of love, took up the cross of all our pain and anguish up a hill so that we may never stop singing the love song of God for the world.
Week after week, we preachers are blessed with the opportunity to preach to the choir because that's one way God gets you to sing. And we sing without holding anything back, because God loves the entirety of who we are, even with all our baggage thrown in. God wants it all.
However, we've been programmed to pray a certain way: that they need to be in complete sentences with some suitable, proper words thrown in. And the common teaching that "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all," applies even more so to God. Not so much. God wants it all. God wants to hear every song, every word, every meditation. Jesus did not just die for the good ones, but for the entirety of us broken, human, and yet precious children of God. And so we sing as one unified choir just as we are with all our baggage thrown in, and yet somehow, someway, made whole time and time again because of our Rock and our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, now and forevermore. Thanks be to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon