I preached a very good sermon several years ago.
The reason I know it was good is because several people said that it was. After church, folks shook my hand and said, “That was a good one.”
Now, truthfully, they say that every Sunday, just being nice. But that particular Sunday, several years ago, I think they really meant it.
I am my own worst critic, but even I thought that particular sermon was good. Notice, I didn’t say great; I said good.
Another reason I think it was a good one is that some people several years later said something about that particular sermon, and how much it had meant to them.
For someone to remember one of my sermons years later is like someone saying they remember Halley’s Comet.
That sermon, titled “Everything Tastes Like Chicken,” was about Christian people being different. Others should be able to look at us and listen to us and tell that we are Christians.
So, that was it. That was my one hit. Jack Ely and I have something in common. However, his one hit was bigger than mine.
My one hit was a sermon that a few people remembered. His one hit, “Louie, Louie,” will be remembered as one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll hits of all time.
Ely and I also have something else in common. We say words that people can’t understand.
Church members leave my church on Sunday morning with queried expressions, saying on the way to Sunday lunch, “What did he say?”
So, rock ’n’ roll fans have said the same about Jack Ely and The Kingsmen one great hit.
You can listen to the lyrics of “Louie, Louie” a thousand times and can’t tell what they’re singing.
Ely said the reason the lyrics are impossible to understand is because it was recorded in a 10-by-10 room with one microphone dangling from the ceiling.
The other guys were banging on guitars, and Ely had to jump to get to the microphone.
The words were so unintelligible that the FBI launched an investigation, thinking the words were pornographic.
The bureau concluded a 455-page report (a great use of tax dollars) on the single, by saying that the vocals were “unintelligible at any speed.”
In the music business, Jack Ely would be known as a one-hit wonder. So were Vicki Lawrence (“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”) and Keith Carradine (“I’m Easy”).
We preachers get 52 Sundays a year to try to put into words what God put into flesh. I’m not great at explaining the things of God, even though I have a good microphone, one that is not dangling from the ceiling.
We should all be careful with the words we use. Words can curse or bless. Especially for those of us who try to speak for God, we should be oh so careful what we say and how we say it. We should speak with clarity and conviction, and yes, also with compassion.
There are some great people in my church, and I will bet in yours too, who speak with kindness and compassion.
When they open their mouths, they sound like genuine, honest people; they never have microphones stuck in front of their noses nor are they trying to be rock stars.
As a church minister, I am constantly called on to “say a few words.” My role as a “speaker of words,” whether in sermons, funerals, weddings or columns in a newspaper, is the role to which most people attach my name.
It is very important that I give great care to the words I speak. I want “the words of my mouth (and the meditations of my heart) to be acceptable in thy sight” (Psalm 19:14).
Most of us know through firsthand experience the damage from an ill-spoken word or the healing from a well-spoken and kind word.
So, guard your words. But, say them often enough so as not to be a “one-hit wonder.”
Steve Davis is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Carrollton, Georgia, and the author of “From the News to the Pews.”