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Singing a song from the pulpit

by davesandel on September 30th, 2021

Thursday, September 30, 2021                                  (today’s lectionary)

Memorial of Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Singing a song from the pulpit

In Illinois I was sometimes a supply preacher. In church circles, this means that I can preach when the preacher is absent. Once my friend Steve Ingram’s church in Monticello called and asked me to preach on an autumn Sunday.

The whole people gathered as one in the open space. In the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand, all the people listened attentively.

Steve and I spent most of our time together working concessions at the Fighting Illini football games. He hollered up a storm, selling soda and coffee and what-not for the Christian Campus House, where I worked. The best day (for me) was when he spilled a whole tray of coffee walking up the stadium steps. Actually, I felt bad for him. But he laughed at himself, so I did too.

The Christian Church – Church of Christ doesn’t preach according to a lectionary, but the text I chose must have been something like today’s, about Ezra’s reading of the long-lost law and subsequent celebration. Once it was lost, and now it’s been found. Read the book, eat and drink, and share the party with everyone.

Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad and do not weep, but go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared. Rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!

I thought, “Why not write a song and sing it from the pulpit?” Not that I ever did this before, or since. But that Sunday in October, it seemed like the thing to do. I took my guitar and began singing the words to Psalm 119: 30-32.

I have chosen the way of truth

I have set my heart on your laws.

I hold fast to your statutes, O my Lord

Do not let be put to shame!

I run in the path of your commands

I run in the path of your commands

I run in the path of your commands

For you have set my heart free

You have set my heart free!

The song came together, and so on Sunday morning, heart in mouth, I sang it. Even got a little applause. Those folks in the congregation probably never heard a song from the pulpit before; of course they clapped for me.

Decades later, the song sticks with me like glue. Sometimes I associate it with a picture of me and friends skipping down a sidewalk. We are running in the path of God’s commands, at least that’s how I tweak the image in my mind. Lord, you have set our hearts free!

And that’s how Ezra saw it too. He and Nehemiah forbade weeping, or remorse, or any of the obvious responses to hearing of laws that they had not obeyed. No, today was a party day. Celebrate this amazing day when God’s law, created for the health, wholeness and holiness of his people, at last sees the light, so we can begin to live in the light and become whole and holy in God’s sight.

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold, sweeter also than syrup or honey from the honeycomb.

The Hebrews were building a temple. But they were also beginning to understand themselves as individual habitations of God – temples of the Holy Spirit, as Paul would later call us. Do you remember a day when that FACT came home to you?

For me, it was in a building called the “Chicken Palace” on a farm near the northern California town of Boonville. I was part of a group visiting a weekend seminar held by the Creative Community Project. The weekend was filled with singing, exercise, small group talks, improv skits, sharing sandwiches with each other and talks about God and the world. After a Saturday night sing and lecture, we marched around the Chicken Palace singing, “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” My heart opened wide. The Holy Spirit came right in.

There is a lot more to that story. But it was all icing on the cake. I’d been baked and found worthy right there in the Chicken Palace.

There’s a lot more to the story of the Hebrews too. Nothing ever quite works out the way we plan. But God’s company is the best company in the world, and he is always right there.

Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals, and greet no one along the way. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this household.” If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him.

(Nehemiah 8, Psalm 19, Mark 1, Luke 10)

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