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An away game

The Lutheran Church of the Ascension, Atlanta, GA

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to be the guest preacher at the church of a colleague and friend who was celebrating the tenth anniversary of his ordination. I haven’t preached at a church that wasn’t my own for a long, long time. I think the last time was in Kenya (with a translator) seven years ago. Anyway, it’s a different experience and I thought I would share my impressions of that day. How is preaching an “away game” different than your “home field”?

First, the only thing I had to think about that day was the sermon. I didn’t have to unlock doors, turn on lights and sound system, update my prayers for the day with special requests, or pick up miscellaneous items left around the sanctuary. Show up, preach, talk to folks afterwards. That’s it.

The biggest difference is that I was preaching to a room full of strangers. Other than my wife and my friend’s family, I didn’t know a soul in the room. Every other Sunday in my congregation, I know every face and name in the room. I’ve been to their homes. I know what’s going on in their lives. They’ve shared with me their blessings and their struggles. I know who’s not there. On this Sunday, though, all of that is missing. I have to remember that God knows them all and His Word will indeed speak to them.

Of course, they don’t know me, either. I’m just the designated hitter. They are there because they crave God’s Word and grace. But they are also wondering, “Who’s this guy?” “How long is he going to preach?” And, “What’s for lunch?” (Hey, I’ve sat in the pew. I know what’s going through your mind.)

It did occur to me that I could pretty much say anything I wanted. I would never see these people again. They would never have to listen to me again, either. I even considered asking their pastor, “Is there anything you want me to tell them that you’ve been hesitant to say?” I didn’t go there, though. That’s not why we gather. The better question before a sermon is the prayer, “Lord, what do you want your people to hear?”

One memorable difference about the morning, though, was all the handshaking I did. Now remember, because of Covid-19 precautions and distancing, elbow bumps and “air shakes” have been our practice. However this community had retained the custom of shaking hands. I did so, but also made frequent use of the nearby hand sanitizer. I shook more hands that morning than I have in the last six months!

I also didn’t do a children’s sermon that morning. I always do a children’s sermon or object lesson preceding the sermon. This congregation, however, did not include that in their worship. I missed that, especially when I saw a number of little ones out there.

Overall, it was a great experience. We were warmly welcomed and enjoyed talking with many of the worshipers after the service. Whether home or away, it’s always a privilege to preach God’s Word. And just as He promised, it never goes out without accomplishing exactly what He intended.

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