Charles Somervill: Don’t sit on the front row

June 16, 2012

Don’t sit on the front row

I made the mistake of sitting on the front row at a church regional meeting (Presbytery). At the time, it seemed like a good place to plead my case. I should have remembered that Jesus warned us not to do that. After all, he said, we might face the embarrassment of being asked to move back. (Luke 14:9)

I wasn’t asked to move to the back. It was even worse than that. When the time came for me to speak, I faced the audience. Then came the shout, “Point of order!” I forgot about the Presbyterian rule that requires the speaker to face the chair (moderator). I was not allowed to face the audience at all. I had to deliver my entire speech while facing the moderator! I would have been better off sitting on a side row; that way I could have interacted with the audience.

Speaking with your back to the audience violates every rule of communication. Attorneys know to tell their witness to face the jury. It’s not enough just to speak. Facial expressions and body language, as some texts point out, are perhaps even more important. Also, with your back to the audience, you can’t read their reactions and make adjustments in your delivery.

Then I think about Judgment Day. What happens then? There’s no use in turning to an audience of my peers and dramatically asking, “How many of you are guilty of the same offense?! Let me see your hands.”

Or perhaps I might want to plead my case by citing extenuating circumstances that will appeal to their sympathy. “Point of order!” the court will say. “You must face the Judge.” The audience has no say.

Besides all that, the court already has HD videos of every lousy thing I’ve done. My only option is to throw myself on the mercy of the court. And maybe that’s not so bad.

It’s true that God doesn’t grade on a curve, but there’s forgiveness that erases bad grades. I remember Psalm 130, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you that you may be revered.”

And I also remember someone who forgave his enemies while hanging on a cross. If the Judge is like that, face forward is the best place to be.

So I’m not going to ask for a jury trial, but I’m not going to sit on the front row either!

Charles Somervill is pastor of Granbury’s First Presbyterian Church.

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