Thirty years ago, a friend of mine was to be ordained. He asked me to be a presenter at the ceremony and to read the Old Testament lesson for the day. I humbly accepted the invitation. He told me I should don my academic robe for the event, explaining that it was canonically correct to wear academic regalia in formal church services, even if it was not acceptable to be clad in ecclesiastical garb in academic convocations. So, I got out my robe and Ph. D. hood and tidied them up for the event.
When the great day came, I showed up at the appointed place, a beautifully ornate sanctuary in a large city, looking like a Supreme Court judge. The processional was long and ostentatious, the incense was pungent and the organ blared in full tremolo. I read my passage from Isaiah, emphasizing the part that says, “Here am I, send me,” from the lectern, concluding my contribution with the designated words, “Here endeth the reading.”
Then came the Gospel reading by my honored friend himself and then the sermon by a reverend professor from a New York seminary. I remember his remarks almost verbatim, notwithstanding the lapse of three decades. He said:
“Right Reverend Sir, reverend clergy, friends and relatives of the ordinand, fellow followers of Our Lord, ladies and gentlemen, I bring greetings from my colleagues on the seminary faculty and from the students studying there.
“When I was a student in that very seminary,” he went on, “I had a classmate from Texas I could not stand to be around. His accent was so very thick. He said “hep” for “help” and “wekom” for “welcome.” There was not an “L” in his mouth. And he had other objectionable speech patterns as well. I tried to avoid this Texan as much as possible.”
Since I was seated on the platform, I could see the faces of those gathered for the event, all Southern people, some Texans, and I wondered where that minister thought he was. He continued undaunted:
“I decided in my heart I never would go to Texas if I could avoid it. But, when this graduate of our seminary to be ordained here today asked me to come down here to deliver the sermon, I did not know what was going to happen. I got on the airplane at JFK and changed planes in Memphis to come to Little Rock. The weather was terrible at Memphis and worsened as we approached Little Rock. The plane was rocking and bouncing and lightning was flashing all around us. The pilot came on the p.a. system and said we were diverting to Dallas-Ft. Worth. Oh, my, I thought. This is terrible. But when we drew near to Texas, the weather cleared, the flight smoothed out. The Dallas-Ft. Worth airport came into view. IT WAS A WEKOM SITE, SO HEP ME.”
Then, he went on to preach a beautiful sermon. I thought that was a great attention-getter and a wonderful way to get into a sermon by shedding all semblance to the Pharisee.