Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Finding Our Voice

As most people know, The King's Speech, won the academy award for best picture. It is the story of King George, a shy man who was thrust onto the world stage at a critical point in world history. The charismatic German leader, Hitler, was mesmerizing crowds of people with his impeccable elocution. King George needed to speak a word to his own people of England but the problem was he could not get those words out without stuttering. The Queen finds an Australian speech therapist who helps King George find his voice so he can address the public reassuringly. It is a great film ( I have heard since I have not seen it yet) with Biblical overtones. God chose spokespersons with similar speech impediments such as Moses. It could be said that anyone who stands before a crowd and espouses to speak a word for God feels like he or she is stuttering. Badly, at times. How do you speak for God? Most of us who have preached have stood before a congregation with butterflies in our stomachs, sweaty palms, and wondering how long until this torment would be over. Most people I have talked to when asked to "fill the pulpit" confess to a lifelong fear of speaking in public. William Willimon, a preacher and teacher of preachers, says, "Walking naked down Main Street while playing a harmonica is nothing compared to the personal exposure required to talk about God for 2o minutes to a group of people who have been, all week long, avoiding even the barest mention of God."

Most of us who preach need someone like Lionel Logue, the King's speech therapist, if we are going to find our voice. Few of us ever find our Logue but hopefully we find our voice. Eugene Peterson in his book, Pastor, tells about a time when his grown son returned home from college where he was pursuing a writing degree. He told Peterson that just as all novelists have one book so all preachers have one sermon. Peterson protested vehemently; each sermon of his was different and carefully crafted. Later, after his son returned to school, he left the church he had been attending because it was too big and he didn't know anyone and tried other churches in the area. Eventually, he came back to the same church he had been at. When Peterson asked why, his son replied, none of those other pastors had found their sermon. Then, Peterson said, he knew what his son was talking about.

I have stuttered and stammered and struggled to get through plenty of sermons. I have listened to many other preachers do the same. In fact, some of the most well known preachers of past and present had all kinds of vocal oddities and bodily tics. Some of their voices were hard to listen to and their trains of thought not easy to follow. Willimon defines finding one's voice as "learning to embrace why God called someone like me to say truth like this to people like these." He reminds us that preachers are not up there to "share what's on their hearts". Who really cares, anyway? Preachers are called to speak a word from the Lord to these people in this place on this day. That's all that is worth talking about.

Paul said that God shows his power through our weaknesses. Good thing. Every week those weaknesses are on display but we trust the power of God is at work as well. May he help us preachers find our voice.