Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Judges 6:11-27) transports me to the fall of 1973, when the Gashes Creek Baptist Youth Choir hit the road for a big tour; we sang at the Sunday night services of Baptist churches all over Buncombe County. It was a big deal for me, I had just aged out of junior choir and got to join the big kids in youth choir. It was also a big deal because I had just gotten my first guitar, and was mesmerized by one of the older youth, Mark Holt, who played a 12-string on a couple of numbers in our concerts. Accompaniment on most of our songs came from Aileen and Freddie Wardrup, with Aileen tickling the ivories and Freddie thumping the bass. Each concert ended, though, with Mark bringing out his 12-string and doing a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s hit single, Why, Me? Mark would make his way to the pulpit and start out singing solo, Why me, Lord, what have I ever done to deserve even one of the blessings I’ve known. . . We would all join in on the chorus, Lord help me Jesus, I’ve wasted it so, help me Jesus, I know who I am. . . My memory is that Mark would get choked up in just about every concert whenever he got into the second verse, Try me Lord, if you think there’s a way I can try to repay all I’ve taken from you. . . His voice would crack, and he would start weeping, and every time, Freddie would come up to the pulpit and put his arm around Mark, Aileen would start playing the piano, and Freddie would take up where Mark left off - Maybe Lord, I can show someone else what I’ve been through myself on my way back to you. I still get all tingly whenever I think about it, remembering how we’d all be weeping as we sang that last chorus with cracked voices.
Gideon, one of the early judges of Israel, wrote his own version of Why Me Lord? centuries earlier. His people had betrayed the covenant, were worshiping other gods, and were in the midst of fierce warfare with the Midianites. One day and angel of the Lord came to Gideon, calling him to take charge and lead his people to salvation. Gideon’s response – why me? He explained that he was the least likely character to take on a leadership role. He was part of the least significant clan in the tribe of Mannasah, and he was the least significant member of his family. Why would God want to work through him? What had he ever done to deserve such a blessing? He responds to his surprise encounter with a Kristofferson-like line: Help me Lord! As we read through the holy writ, we see that Gideon’s story is repeated time and time again. It’s God’s m.o. to make surprise selections of the least, the lowliest, the litter’s runts to build the kingdom. It’s a thread that connects the fabric of the faith story – from stammering Moses to the virgin girl Mary, from the overlooked shepherd boy who became king, to the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night, hearing the first angelic announcement that the savior had been born. Why me Lord? is a constant refrain of all those unworthy folks made worthy by God.
Kris Kristofferson tells the story of how he wrote the song; after a decade of hedonism and rough living in low places (part of what gives him his wonderfully gruff voice, no doubt), his friend Connie Smith convinced him to go with her one night to a service at Jimmie Snow’s church, Evangel Temple in Nashville. I had a profound religious experience during that session, something that hadn’t happened to me before. Everybody was kneeling down, and Jimmie said something like, “Anybody that’s lost, please raise your hand.” I was kneeling there; I don’t go to church a lot, and the notion of raising my hand was out of the question, and I thought, I can’t imagine who’s doing that, and all of a sudden I felt my hand going up. I was hoping nobody else was looking, cause everybody else had their head down, praying, and he said, “If anybody is ready to accept Jesus,” something like this, “come down to the front of the church,” and I thought, that would never happen, and then I found myself getting up and walking down with all these people. And I don’t really know what he said to me, he said something like, “Are you ready to accept Jesus Christ in your life?” or something, and I said, “I don’t know.” I didn’t know what I was doing there. And he put me down, said “kneel down here,” I can’t even remember what he said, but whatever it was, it was such a release for me, I found myself weeping in public. I felt this forgiveness, that I didn’t even know I needed. I sure am glad he made his way to church that Sunday night, if for no other reason than all the Sunday nights we later experienced, as we wept our way through his song.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.