The words of my mouth


Luther Preaching Christ, Lucas Cranach

14 Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O LORD,
my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Pastors know these words. I cannot speak for all traditions, nor for all pastors currently, but there was a time when these words accompanied most Lutheran pastors as they ascended into the pulpit. Sometimes they were said out loud at the close of a public prayer. Sometimes spoken by the mind and heart in private prayer before he (in those days, ‘he’) began to speak.

Ascending the pulpit. We don’t ascend much anymore. The church in Denmark where my father was baptized had a pulpit fifteen or twenty steps into the air, towering over the congregation from high above the altar. Most Lutheran pulpits in this country were at least three or four steps above the floor of the nave. While not a Lutheran pulpit, the pulpit in the church of the early reformer John Huss in Prague was halfway up the wall, reached by an exterior stairway. The door to the pulpit, however, was only a few feet high. The pastor could not enter to preach without first getting on his knees.

Such pulpits symbolized the pastor was called by God to speak on God’s behalf, to announce both God’s judgment and mercy, God’s Law and Gospel – the law always for the sake of the mercy. Of course, it helped with acoustics in the days without sound equipment, but that was not its primary meaning. At least for Lutherans. God was the one who need to speak, to declare not just the divine command “thou shalt (or shalt not)…,” but the more important divine declaration: “I have…” I have redeemed you…you are mine.” “I have swept away your offenses like a cloudNIV “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

It is customary now for there to be not a high pulpit but a single reading desk, normally at the same level as the altar/table. Word and Sacrament, both God’s speech to the community, one incarnated in a human voice, one incarnated in bread and wine, both heralding God’s grace.

And it is fashionable for pastors to preach from the aisle without a desk, without a manuscript. It is meant to indicate that the word of God is for us, that the pastor is one of us. Or, maybe it’s just meant to indicate the pastor is modern. Hopefully it’s not just to be more entertaining.

I like preaching from a desk, a pulpit, with my manuscript resting on the open Bible from which I have read the Gospel. I wish the people were closer – and sometimes I will walk down nearer to them – but they could also sit closer.

I need that book before me. I need the symbolic reminder that no one in the congregation or the world needs my thoughts. They need to hear the voice of God that comes to us through these ancient texts. I have thoughts. We all think we are smarter than the average politician. We all think we know what would make a better world. But I am a commissioned agent. I speak on behalf of another. Not that I have any new inspiration from God, but I bear witness to the word already recorded for us: the words of the prophets declaring both judgment and grace, the words of the primal history telling its majestic story of God creating a good, beautiful and ordered world – a world humanity knocked off kilter. A majestic story of God seeking to set right the world, calling Abraham to be an agent through which God would bring blessing to all. I bear witness to the words already spoken and recorded and handed down from generation to generation through thousands of years, words tested by each generation, words in which each generation found not just hope and comfort and challenge – but heard the voice of the living God call them by name and send them to be a blessing.

I bear witness to the Word, the self-communication of God that was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth and, through stories handed down, declares both the horror of our rebellion with hammer and nails and the wonder of heaven’s mercy. I bear witness.

No one needs my thoughts. We need somehow to hear the voice of eternity. That’s the pastor’s struggle in the study as he or she prepares. That’s why he or she offers that desperate prayer:

14 Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O LORD,
my rock and my redeemer.


Photo: By user:Torsten Schleese (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


About dkbonde

Pastor, Los Altos Lutheran Church
This entry was posted in Preaching, Worship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The words of my mouth

  1. Pingback: Words worth speaking | Watching for the morning

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