I Don't Even Know Where to Begin

February 12, 2013

Excerpt from Psalm 103

"As far as the east is from the west, so far God removes our transgressions from us."

Martin B. Copenhaver

When I was a student at Yale Divinity School, one of the legendary professors was Paul Holmer, who taught philosophical theology.  He was famously brilliant and something of a curmudgeon.  He had a barrel-chest and a gravelly voice.  If a film were done of his life, the part of Paul Holmer would have been played by the actor George C. Scott.  And Mr. Holmer was the General Patton of the classroom.

No surprise then that, in my first year at divinity school, I handed in my first paper to Mr. Holmer with some trepidation.  When I got it back I couldn't miss his first comment at the top of the first page.  It was in big letters and underlined:  "I don't even know where to begin."  His subsequent comments made it clear that this was not a compliment.  But Mr. Holmer was a wonderful teacher, so I went on to take three more classes with him.

A sequel to that story:  this past year I was asked to write an endorsement for the back cover of a volume of Mr. Holmer's collected sermons and addresses.  I felt very honored to be asked, but I was also very tempted to begin that endorsement by saying, "I don't even know where to begin."

I think of Mr. Holmer and his critique of my paper often when I come to the silent prayers of confession in worship:  I don't even know where to begin.  (And I don't mean it as a compliment, either.)  Gratefully, I also believe there is no beginning or end to God's forgiveness.

Prayer

God, I cling to your goodness.  Remove my transgressions from me as far as the east is from the west.

About the Author
Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor, Wellesley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Wellesley, Massachusetts. He is the author, with Lillian Daniel, of This Odd and Wondrous Calling: the Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers.

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