Amen's and Sneezing!

 "An Amen Is Nothing to Sneeze At!" This will require some explanation, but hold on for that! When I was a teenager, I would get into trouble at church. Nothing major, but just the kind of antics that had me laughing at inappropriate times. Like when we were standing at the end of a worship service and listening to the choir as they concluded with a beautiful choral Amen. The choir members were all in harmony until the final Amen's. This is the time when the sopranos and altos with great enthusiasm and increased volume would hit the high notes in affirming, "Amen" and drawing out each syllable.

Then antiphonally, the tenors and bases would chime in with their corresponding Amen's. It was both melodic and confusing. About the time I would try to step out into the aisle and head for the door, the choir would add another Amen. It seemed to be an endless exercise for an anxious teenager! At last and almost with a whisper, they would conclude, "Amen!" I would be chuckling to myself as several friends and I gasped and said among ourselves, "I thought they would never get to the end of that!"

Sneezing Cartoon
depositphotos.com

Fast forward to my first pastorate after seminary. I was by now well into my thirties and no longer a kid! I attended an annual associational meeting of church messengers (delegates) who were meeting for business and inspiration. Please do not confuse the two! Even adults often endure the business so that we can enjoy the preaching and inspiration. It was during one of these inspirational segments of the program that something very humorous occurred. 

Dr. Lester Collins had been invited to speak. Collins was pastor of the Tallowood Church, a prestigious congregation in the Memorial area of near west Houston. He likely was addressed with the prefix "Dr." by most of his parishioners. We were anticipating a well thought out message and ready to see how this distinguished man of God would deliver it. I was new to the city and not yet familiar with many of the leading pastors. This was as much a learning experience for me as it was a meeting to be informed and inspired. 

In the crowd of pastors was another good man from the near east side of the city. I would learn later that Dr. T. Lamar Mathis had been the distinguished and founding pastor of Faith Memorial Church. Mathis was well into a tenure that would, at his retirement, extend to more than an incredible fifty-four years of service with the church! 

As Dr. Collins began his message, he almost immediately hit a chord of agreement that resonated with several listeners. Soon, a booming voice was heard from the back of the church. It sounded like a jetliner taking off the runway! It was T. Lamar Mathis who was affirming Dr. Collins' early remarks with a hearty "Amen!" that started low but soon went high with sustained power behind it. "EEEEEE--MANNNNN!" Mathis shouted. (This may have been an East Texas pronunciation!😊)

Dr. Collins was so startled that he accidentally scattered his copious notes from the top of the pulpit down to the floor all around him. As he hurriedly tried to regain his composure and gather his notes, Dr. Collins looked to the back where Mathis was seated and declared, "T. Lamar! You would Amen a sneeze!" And you could guess the instant response! "EEEEEE--MANNNNN!!" 

With the Covid-19 mitigation protocols in place for our protection, we are not supposed to sing or speak out loud during worship. This is a necessary precaution against spreading droplets that may harm others. We are wary of those around us who may cough or worse yet, sneeze. Experts say that a vigorous sneeze can expel droplets of various sizes up to 27 feet from our noses (NationalGeographic.com April 17, 2020). All of this comes at a time in church practices when audible Amen's are hard to come by and when they are expressed, it is because the pastor-speaker has had to ask or politely prompt the congregation to affirm him.

What is the point or blessing of an affirming Amen? The word, whether in Hebrew or Greek, means something akin to "so be it!" We might say, "Right on!" Jesus often used the phrase "Verily! Verily!" or "Truly! Truly!" when He was making such an emphatic affirmation. The Apostle John ends the book of Revelation with a celebratory "Amen" (22:21). In his vision, John attributes to Jesus a special name, "The Amen" (3:13 - One who is faithful and true). Paul concludes several prayers and doxologies with an "Amen" (Romans 11:36; Ephesians 3:21; and 1 Timothy 1:17). Other uses of this affirmation can be found in 1 Peter 5:11; Jude 25; and Revelation 7:12.

I can remember learning how to time and affirm an appropriate "Amen" when I was trying to participate in worship as a teenager. It was awkward and difficult at first. I did not want to add an "Amen" to draw attention to myself although I'm sure it did during those formative years. I did want to express agreement with what my pastor was affirming from the Word of God. I wanted this expression to be another way that I could connect in worship and to declare ultimately that God was speaking to me and I was trying to listen and receive what He was saying!

Participatory worship is good. Bringing our Bibles to services, note-taking, smiling, nodding, being alert and interested, are some of ways we show we're engaged. An occasional mouthed "Amen" would also be welcomed! 😉

Let's continue to find ways to bless and bring glory to our God! Join the Apostle Paul in affirming, "To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen!" (Romans 16:27).

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent.
Contact: drmjkeppler@gmail.com


Comments

  1. I love the humorous stories that convey the truth of one's praise affirmation or AMEN! As you could imagine, Catholic Christians in the U.S.A. have not developed this practice but one time, my mom's faith sharing group decided that the week's "discipleship challenge" would be giving Fr. Mike some "Amen's" during his homily the following Sunday. I remember that day. As he entered into the main body of his preaching, my mom offered the first (amen). Soon, another tiny emittance came forth from the other side of the church. There was a disturbance in the force that day as the other members of St. Boniface church began looking around as if the Pentecostals had infiltrated! In all seriousness, your call for this is so important. While we Catholics have practiced the call and response with the reading or singing of the psalms, there's nothing quite as emphatic and encouraging as a well-delivered and sincere AMEN! Good writing Mike.

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