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June 4, 2019, 11:28 AM

Misheard Lyrics - Sermon, 6/2/19


Bless the words that are spoken and the silence that is shared in the name of the One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

I am known for mishearing lyrics to songs and, of course, singing the misheard lyrics loudly to anyone who has the misfortune to hear me. I used to think it only happened to me, but it turns out that there are entire websites dedicated to misheard lyrics, especially to popular songs. One of the more famous ones is from “Bad Moon Rising,” by Credence Clearwater Revival. Part of the chorus is often heard as, “There’s a bathroom on the right.” The actual lyric is, “There’s a bad moon on the rise.” Close enough? Right? Sort of?

 

And it’s not just popular music that lends itself to misheard lyrics. Even very familiar hymns can be misheard. For example, a friend of the family, who I will call May to protect the innocent, May used to sing part of the hymn, The Old Rugged Cross, with a pretty silly error in it. The actual lyric is “And exchange it someday for a crown.” She always heard it – and then sang it – as “And exchange it someday for a clown.” Of course, now I can’t sing “The Old Rugged Cross” without thinking of May’s mistake and those scary clowns. Close enough? Right? Sort of?

 

Then there is my friend’s brother, who I will call Jeff to protect the innocent, who made another fairly silly error when singing “Go, Tell it On the Mountain.” We know the lyrics, right? “Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.” Jeff, for a reason we will probably never know, used to sing the lyric as, “Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ eats corn.” Eats corn? Close enough? Right? Sort of?

 

Mishearing lyrics can produce some good laughs, especially when we realize our mistakes. But it’s not just lyrics that can misheard and, therefore, mis-remembered. Sometimes, we also mishear and then mis-remember lines of scripture – even very familiar lines of scripture. One of those misheard, and therefore mis-remembered, scriptures for me appears in today’s Gospel reading.

 

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel can be confusing, to say the least. Between the “these” and “those” and “in me” and “in them,” it’s no wonder Jesus’ words confuse some of us. It might be important to notice that Jesus offers today’s prayer immediately before his arrest. As some humans do when facing the end of life, Jesus is thinking about those who will come after him. I imagine that Jesus has to know that his impending arrest will lead to his trial, crucifixion, and death.

 

It makes sense, then, that Jesus prays for the people he loves. The reading opens with Jesus praying for his disciples. He is probably filled with compassion and sadness and hope – all at the same time. But Christ’s prayer is not limited to the disciples who immediately surround him. The reading continues as Jesus prays, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.”

 

As I prepared for this morning’s sermon, I practiced reading the Gospel passage aloud. It was while practicing that I discovered today’s passage includes one of my “misheard lyrics.” For, well, forever, I have misheard – or at least mis-remembered – a key line in the reading. I have always thought that Jesus prays to God “on behalf of those who will believe in (him) through YOUR word.” Close enough? Right? Sort of?

 

Nope. Not close enough. Not right. Not even sort of right. Jesus prays to God “on behalf of those who will believe in (him) through THEIR word” - not “YOUR” word. Through the disciples’ word, not God’s word. And who is the “THEIR” Jesus prays for? The disciples, of course. Although the “THEIR” that Jesus prays for is the disciples in the immediate sense, it doesn’t stop with the original disciples who surround Jesus during his earthly ministry. Who else is the “THEIR” Jesus prays for? Yep – it’s us. Jesus prays to God “on behalf of those who will believe in (him) through OUR word.”

 

But what’s the big deal? What’s the big deal in mishearing and mis-remembering this scripture verse? What’s the big deal in thinking that Jesus prays that his message will continue because of God’s word? In many cases, mishearing the lyric in a song just turns into something funny, like thinking the song is about a “bathroom on the right” or “clowns” or “corn.” But in the case of today’s scripture, mishearing and mis-remembering the verse actually completely changes its meaning.

 

Jesus does NOT pray “on behalf of those who will believe in (him) through GOD’s word.” Jesus DOES pray “on behalf of those who will believe in (him) through OUR word.” Changing just that one phrase - “GOD’s word” to “OUR word” - completely changes the verse’s meaning.

 

If spreading the Christian message relies only on God’s word, Christians are pretty much off the hook. If spreading the Christian message relies only on God’s word, Christians have little to no responsibility. If spreading the Christian message relies only on God’s word, Christians can simply sit back and chill out.

 

But that is not Christ’s prayer. Instead, in his prayer, Jesus places much of the responsibility for spreading his message on us. It is through OUR word that the Christian message will be heard. It is through OUR word that the Christian message will be spread to the world.

 

Because it is through OUR word that people will hear the Christian message, this totally shifts the responsibility for evangelism from relying completely on GOD’s effort to instead relying on God working through US. After all, God does continue to speak to God’s people. But we can’t stop there. We can’t simply rely on God alone to spread the great Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ prayer does not simply rely on God and place the responsibility on God.

 

Uh-oh. I just let one of those potentially tricky, scary words just slip into my sermon – hoping you wouldn’t really notice. What’s that potentially tricky, scary word? “Evangelism.” For many of us, the word “evangelism” only calls up negative meanings. When we hear “evangelism,” we might only think of preachers on the television, begging for money. When we hear “evangelism,” we might only think of people standing on a street corner, yelling about Jesus.

 

But “evangelism” does not have to be a tricky, scary word for Christians – not even for Episcopalians and Anglicans. Evangelism simply involves sharing with other people the great Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ. And, even if we’re not called to stand on a street corner and yell about Jesus, we are still meant to participate in evangelism.

 

Evangelism might look like something different in each of our lives. Evangelism might look like inviting friends or family members to church. Evangelism might look like telling someone that you are praying for them. But evangelism doesn’t necessarily have to involve our mouths. Evangelism might look like truly seeing a person in need. Evangelism might look like helping another person to see goodness in their life.

 

Let us commit ourselves to truly and correctly hearing Jesus’ prayer in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus prays “on behalf of those who will believe in (him) through OUR word.” May we be free enough and convicted enough and brave enough to be part of answering Jesus’ prayer. Amen.


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