“Lord, let this sermon that I preach and the words that come out of me right now, not be of me, but of You. May your Spirit speak through my brokenness, so that we may catch a glimpse of You.”
Did you catch it? Did you see what just happened there?
This is a prayer that I’ve heard more or less verbatim for years in church. It is a way of invoking the Holy Spirit and making sure that our hearts are drawn to God when we pray and preach and teach the Bible, making sure that our human frailties don’t provide a stumbling block to the flock of God. This is the most generous interpretation of a technique that I call portal jumping.
Portal jumping is a technique rampant in religions all across the world and in many other activities as well. It’s what can make you believe that Lady Gaga is from an alternate dimension (bad example, though, cuz she really is) or that your favorite TV show is literally responsible for the way TV is done now (spoiler alert: it probably isn’t.) Human beings have a strong tendency to make things more than they are, a Gatsby-ish proclivity we discussed in The Enchanted Objects Across The Sound, Part 1. Portal jumping is one of the ways that we do this.
It is a way of invoking the Holy Spirit and making sure that our hearts are drawn to God when we pray and preach and teach the Bible…
Back to the preacher. Imagine being a Christian. Imagine knowing that God is all powerful, all knowing, that He loves you personally, and that He is present everywhere. But you can just FEEL His presence in church today. You KNOW that He’s there. You believe that He answers prayer, and that where two or more are gathered, He is there in their midst. (Matt. 18:20) And then the preacher prays that prayer. He asks that the words that come out of his mouth not be his, and that the thoughts that are shared not be marred by the human vessel they travel through.
Have you caught it yet?
Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this phenomenon in her well-known 2009 Ted Talk on creativity:
“Centuries ago in the deserts of North Africa, people used to gather for these moonlight dances, sacred dance and music that would go on for hours and hours until dawn. And they were always magnificent, because the dancers were professionals and they were terrific, but every once in a while, very rarely, something would happen and one of these performers would actually become transcendent.
And I know you know what I’m talking about because I know you’ve all seen, at some point in your life, a performance like this. It was like time would stop. And the dancer would step through some kind of portal, and he wasn’t doing anything different than anything he’d ever done a thousand nights before, but everything would align, and all of a sudden, he would no longer appear to be merely human.”
“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.” – Q, from Paper towns by John Green.
And thus the preacher has done as well. With his simple prayer of “humility”, the preacher has granted himself the status of a god. What is said after that prayer that the divine may speak through the broken is from the Almighty God. I’ve heard many accounts from friends who tell me that “God knew just the sermon I needed today” or “God was really speaking through Pastor Helms today.” Prayer in private might serve some kind of psychological placebo, but in public, it’s the abracadabra of the magic trick, the part that makes you believe something has actually changed. Say a few words over the cracker, and it’s the body of Christ. Say a few words over the wine, and it’s His blood. Over the baby, and it is protected from harm by God’s angels, over the preacher and he can now speak with authority from God.
The only problem is that no matter how many eloquent words you speak, Welch’s is Welch’s, crackers are crackers, and the person on the pulpit is not communicating on behalf of the Creator of the cosmos. They’re just a person.
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