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The Amen Corner

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Last week when I was listening to Jim Wallis of Sojourners speak, he  told a wonderful story.  In the 80s when Martin Luther King Day was first celebrated as a holiday, Wallis was asked to come speak at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Wallis tells of getting into the pulpit there on that January morning and being overwhelmed that he was standing in the same pulpit that Martin Luther King, Jr. and “Daddy” King has preached.  Wallis  began to preach, but he stuttered and stammered, repeating himself over and over.

Suddenly from the front pew on the left came a strong voice, “Help him, Lord!”

Wallis later learned that it was Deacon Jones.  Deacon Jones was the church’s unofficial “Amen Corner.” 

“Tell us the way it is!”

“Halleluiah!”

“He…..ep him, Jesus!”

“Preach it.”

“Amen!”

It was the traditional cadence and “dialogue” of an African American preacher and his/her congregation.  Wallis says “With Deacon Jones help, I was dancing before I was done.”

After the service, Wallis went over to Deacon Jones to thank him for his help and encouragement.

Deacon Jones simply smiled and replied, “I’ve helped make a good preacher out of many a preacher in that pulpit.”  He included in that group, Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is fairly unusual for any of the congregations I serve to “talk back” to me, but when they do, oh the encouragement it gives. I don’t think that the average Caucasian congregation understands the huge help it can be to a preacher when he gets positive verbal feedback from the pews.

In my last church, there was one man, a former elder (who has since moved to Salt Lake City) who was occasionally verbal.  While Dave’s “talkback” was mostly limited to “Amen”s it was always a big help. I truly believe that I preached better when I got that verbal feedback.

For what it’s worth, the word “Amen” is one of those words that the bible doesn’t translate, but just transliterates from the Hebrew & has made it into most languages.  It comes from the Hebrew root “aman” which means to be firm or solid in the sense of permanency. Thus by implication, it means to be sure, true or faithful. So whenever we see this word Amen used in scripture, it is affirming truth, or illustrating something is said that is of absolute certainty.

The word is found throughout the Bible, all the way to the very last word of the Bible (Rev. 22:21)

In the Old Testament the people were even commanded to respond with “Amen”, although in a bit of a different context. 

On the same day Moses commanded the people:

When you have crossed the Jordan, these tribes shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin. And these tribes shall stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali.

The Levites shall recite to all the people of Israel in a loud voice:

“Cursed is anyone who makes an idol—a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of skilled hands—and sets it up in secret.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who leads the blind astray on the road.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his father’s wife, for he dishonors his father’s bed.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who has sexual relations with any animal.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his mother-in-law.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who kills their neighbor secretly.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

“Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”  (Deut 27:11-26)

HOWEVER…having sat in the pew for a year now, I can understand how intimidating that can be. 

Loretta and I love to sing.  And so during the praise time, we sing & both harmonize & really may get swept away.  I would bet that more than once a month, the people in front of us turn after service & say how much they enjoyed sitting in front of us and listening to us sing.  I am humiliated when they do that.  I don’t want do be a distraction to anyone else’s worship.  (But it doesn’t stop me from singly sincerely & in harmony!!)

There have been several Sundays when I wanted to shout out a solid “Amen!” to Pastor Guy.  His preaching is really solid. But I attend a solidly white church in a fairly affluent community.  It is a place where “people know their place.”  And that place includes being quiet while Pastor Guy is preaching.  You don’t draw attention to yourself. 

But one of these days, the Spirit is just going to make me do it.  Guy is going to hit one of his great points and it’s just going to come out. 

If you are not a preacher, but appreciate what your preacher is saying, I hope you will do the same!!

Congreg Response, words

3 Comments to “The Amen Corner”

  1. Amen to that

  2. =-)

  3. Hi Cal,
    Your words seem filled more and more with the Holy Spirit. My memory is bad at times, and I was trying to remember when you pastored Bible Christian in Garden City, KS, while I attended there, and couldn't recall very much "Amening" going on. I do know one thing, and this is without any doubt, that The Spirit moved many times during your lessons, and led me many times to sing songs or give a brief devotion from the pulpit that was in line with what God had given you to share with the congregation. I currently attend a Pentecostal church, with a good size "Amen" corner of which I am a partcipant of. I always carry you in my heart, and thank God for a friend like you. Keep preaching it brother, and I will see you on the glory side.
    Hallelujah!!
    Robert Munoz

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