Those readers who know my wife, Melissa, know that I married very well lest I should find myself thinking more of my gifts than I ought to. A couple of years into both my marriage and my ministry, she provided the appropriate counterpoint to my emergent ego.
It went down like this: Being a rather earnest young cleric who wanted to be known to deliver a useful word that was well-received, I regularly asked Melissa for a review after the Sunday service. It might come sooner, or it might come later, but sometime before we fell asleep, if she had not already volunteered a point of view (which was rare), I would say something like, “So, what did you think of the sermon?” And she would dutifully provide a generally positive, rarely critical comment in a somewhat ambivalent manner.
But after a year or two of this repetitive behavior that she no doubt saw trickling forward into our misty future week after week, year after year, she finally told her truth with a great big sigh after yet one more repetition of, “So whaddya think about the sermon?” And she said, “You know Steve, I don’t go to church for the sermons—I go for the music.”
And honestly, that was a very clarifying moment that I’ve never forgotten. Though her response was layered with several motivations and meanings — including a wink and a nod — it made me more aware of my actual place in relation to the great mystery we honor. In other words, one of the very first things to say about the passion of Christ is that it teaches humility. We’ll be reading that story on Sunday, what we call Palm/Passion Sunday, the start of Holy Week.
I call myself a Christian because this story converted me, but on that point, I’m at a loss for words. I’m brought to a profound and humble silence. Nothing I could say would explain the change itself. It came to me as a gift. I can tell you that no one talked me into it. I was not coerced or otherwise manipulated into believing a set of religious propositions, nor was I scared about my eternal destination.
The best I can say is that one day rather than my attempting to interpret the story, I awoke to find that the story was interpreting me. And I was hooked, gone, or better, found — I was found, like it says in the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
As I said, we’re telling the story again this Sunday. It’s the humble heart of the matter. I hope to share it with you in person, if you’re in the city. If not, we’ll share it as a matter of faith that grace abounds here where I am, and wherever you happen to be.