I did not take this picture. I found it on my wife’s Pinterest.
by Steven Rodriguez
I don’t know why, but every Sunday, when I start to lead worship, my throat gets all scratchy, and I start coughing. Maybe it’s because I’m nervous, or maybe the air is too dry, or dusty, or maybe I’m allergic to the Gaither Hymnal, but without fail, right after “The Lord be with you,” I’m coughing away.
When people think I’m getting weepy during the sermon, it’s usually just my eyes watering from holding back a good hack. Every week we try to reenact the drama of the liturgy, but I’ve got my own rival secular liturgy raging in my heart, or, rather, in my throat. “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,” but what he coughs up, apparently.
This all had to stop. I needed a remedy. I had heard rumors that my vocal music performance friends in college knew about a secret tonic, known only as “The Brew,” that could soothe a sore throat before singing on stage. I’m no diva, but my voice is my instrument, and with it I try to squeak out a word of hope to the faithful every week. I thought I’d give it a try. Maybe it could help me preach without all of the extra oral punctuation marks.
It took me a while to obtain this secret recipe. Its origins were shrouded in mystery. The people I contacted only knew that it existed, nothing more. One person directed me to another, who directed me to another. The hunt was on. Finally an old friend responded with a Facebook message with the magic formula.
I can’t tell you everything that is in The Brew, otherwise it wouldn’t be a secret. (Besides, life is more exciting without Google.) But I can tell you that we did not have all of the exotic ingredients in our fairly well-stocked spice cabinet.
I set to work improvising an approximation. I don’t know if I brewed it for too long or what, but it tasted nasty. The lemon rinds probably stewed too long, because it tasted like the grapefruit of death. I was John the Seer: “It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.” Something about the brew didn’t agree with me. I decided to drink it anyway. I brought it with me to church in a bright orange Lemonjello’s mug and sat it down on the pulpit. I was ready to drink my tonic and do battle with the powers of the air.
There was an added bonus to John the Seer eating that scroll. The honey flavor probably helped soothe his throat, which must have been sore from all that revelating. Or perhaps he found the air of Patmos to be disagreeable to his respiratory system. And right after he eats the scroll, they tell him, “You must prophesy again.”
“You must prophesy again.” Every preacher’s experience of Sunday morning. I was preaching on Mark 1, and sitting during the prelude, I found myself doing a corrupted Ignatian reading of the text. Ignatius of Loyola said that you should use all of the powers of your imagination to immerse yourself into the Bible story, using all of your senses. Well, my itchy throat sense was tingling pretty badly. I entered into Mark chapter 1, verse 40: “A Steven came to him, begging him, and hacking softly to himself, he said, ‘If you choose, you can make my oral cavity clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose! Stop coughing!’”
Did it work? I don’t know. I think I coughed a little less than usual, but it’s hard to know for sure. Did God speak? Yes, I believe that he did. And if he spoke through Moses’ mumbling, Ezekiel’s socially awkward rants, and Zechariah’s frantic hand waving, he can work with a rasp and a wheeze. Will I make The Brew again next week? Yes, but maybe with a little less lemon rind.
Steven Rodriguez is pastor of Lakeview Community Church (RCA) in Greece, New York. You can follow him on Twitter @smarcorodriguez.