Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How can I be a spokesman when all I've got to say is... 'Help! I don't know what to say"

I was once in the running for the Guinness World Record for shortest sermon ever.

It was  a one word sermon.

I had to arrange it carefully with the worship leader for full effect; and repeating it at multiple morning services, I indeed had to "practice" it.

It was Christmas time. I had the worship leader say something like: "Dave's message today addresses the question addressed by the sermon title:
"If The Savior Has Really Been Born, What Do I Have to Worry About?"

I made sure those were the last words he or she said. Maybe twice so that haunting question was focused in the listener's mind; expecting a profound answer.

Notebooks were opened.

The holy pause for effect as I stepped to the pulpit.

I stood there silently for a moment, scanned the congregation, and said one word:


And I sat down.

To a standing ovation.

I have heard many times over the years comments like:

"I still remember every word of that sermon!"
"That sermon was about nothing."
"That sermon changed my life!"

Cheesy, I know. And it turns out the Guinness record for shortest sermon was scored by a pastor who gave the exact same sermon; except the title was "What does religion have to offer me?"

"Everyone's calling me a spokesman for the generation; the man with all the answers... when the only thing I've got to say is 'Help!'"

In the 1980's, U2's Bono often said something like this. But the cameras caught the reality of it, as they swooped over his lyrical notebook during the filming of 1984's "Unforgettable Fire" documentary:

The pressure on a professional "holy man" (or woman) and "spokesperson for God"---the preacher---to always (at least weekly) have something profound and theological to say is insane
and inane.

What if all the preachers in America...for one Sunday anyway...just stood in their pulpits, and


one word:



Eschatological even.

It's even scriptural, if every sermon must be expository:

Check out it's usage in the Psalms alone.

Some have called the lyrics to the Beatles classic "Help!" (a song someone has clearly linked to U2 here, and a song U2 occasionally covers in concert, as does Christian band DC Talk, making the prayer explicit) a "prayer at its purest." Sure, it's not specifically addressed to God. But "where does all my help inevitably come from?," the Psalms ask. Audioslave, another God-haunted band offers this "unorthodox" lyric:

I will pray
To the gods and the angels
Like a pagan
to anyone
Who will take me to heaven

But isn't that how a desperate and honest person prays:

"Hello? Anyone up there?"

"Help! I need someone...."

Hello? Hello?

In the Vertigo Chicago DVD, Bono begins the song "Elevation" with, as he calls it "a frog in his throat."
Instead of bravefacedly fumbling his way through, he asks (the audience? God? Both, most likely...anyone who will listen, maybe) for:


Watch it, from 1:21, here:

What convinces me this was at heart prayer, is

a) he vocalizes it, in a song that is about prayer itself, at the place in the song when he is, head and hand uplifted, praying the lyric "I believe in You"

b)This delightful story:

Mike Gerson, a Christian and Bush cabinet member, remembers meeting Bono before a concert:

"We met Bono beforehand, and he says, 'I'm so honored that you would pick me for
your first rock concert. I'm a little hoarse tonight. I need you to do me a favor. If
you hear my voice going out, I want you to pray for me.'

If any of you ever hear my voice going out; see my light going out..or especially: fear I am preaching too long:

Do me a favor. Pray for me.


A woman in our first congregation had had a stroke. Try as she might, she could only vocalize one sentence. No matter what she intended to say, it always came out---initially to great frustration---the exact same sentence:

"I don't know what to say."

After awhile, she learned that by facial expression, gesture and tone, she could to amazing degree communicate her actual statement and sentiment, even if the words inevitably came out:

"I don't know what to say."

For example, I would tease her, "How is John (her husband) treating you?"

By her smile and sarcastic expression, she communicated lightheartedly that he was being a rascal as usual. But you know what the only words were.

I realized how profound her sentence was when I realized it was a direct quote of Romans 8:26.
We never know what to say; but the Spirit helps, and gives us the words the Father would have us say and pray.

I never know what to say.


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