I had a slightly different set of experiences Saturday night. Pastor Don had invited me to preach in his place at the Saturday night service, since he was going to be at a conference in Charlottesville that day and not getting back in time. Sure, I can do that. It was supposed to be bowling night, but hey, I can get there late. Then our teammate Ken announced he would be travelling this weekend and could we pre-bowl. God was starting to move things out of the way for this night. Little did I know why.
Whenever in the past I’ve been asked to take part of a weekend, I’ve always picked my own scripture and theme: I’ve never tried to work off the same as the pastor has for the rest of the services on a weekend. But this time, I tried doing just that, because it was the concluding sermon on a series he’d been doing on “renewal.” It didn’t feel right to have had the Saturday night service attendees get four out of the five topics covered, and then just leave them hanging on the last night.
So I checked out the scripture, Matthew 18–the whole chapter–and was floored. It’s just so rich, so full of things to preach on–hey, Don, where were you going with this? He explained that he was preaching on the Kingdom of God and how it’s already present with us…didn’t really say much more. So I went off and came up with a sermon to try to follow that headline lead. I was working on my usual path, of coming up with rough notes and lines to take that would be the basis for my text, when I kept getting a nudge. “Just go with an outline. Don’t write it all out.” Gulp. OK, I’ll try.
Saturday came and by midafternoon the promised “wintry mix” was materializing. Sleet, snow, rain, we had it all…I kept waiting for the message from the school district that they were closing campuses for the night: since the church follows the school’s lead, we would then be cancelling services. But no message came, and so off I went.
You can imagine my surprise to see Pastor Don was there when I walked in! The weather had cancelled his conference, he explained. But he came out to hear me preach–wouldn’t hear of taking it back. Gulp, take two. I’ve had the luxury of preaching without a professional present for years…and one whose topic I was trying to work off of, who has the “textbook answer” already ready to go for tomorrow morning! Gulp, again! To add to the nerves, my Emmaus brother Charley and his wife–one of Mary’s Emmaus sisters, Kathy–decided to come check me out. Gulp, once more!
In the end, I did pretty decently. Not the best I’ve ever done, but also not the weakest. The technique of just using major outline headings worked pretty well: I can’t think of something I missed saying as a result.
But all the more, Charley and Kathy were very complimentary, and I had someone else ask the regular question on her way out the door (“Are you going into ministry?” To which for the first time I equivocated: “It’s not an immediate plan…”). But the report card from Pastor Don was all smiles. “You’re a preacher,” he said. “No doubt in my mind.”