Posted in communication, Ministry, preaching

What makes a sermon “good?”

Photo by Brandable Box on Unsplash

The other day I was pondering the question, “What makes a sermon good?” What makes it effective, memorable, inspiring, applicable and edifying? Can it even be all of those things at the same time? I know that some sermons are none of those things. Every preacher has a dud or two somewhere in their files. But if someone comments, “Boy, that was great!” what moved them to say that? Was it short, funny, convicting or reassuring?

I’ve come to believe that a sermon that touches my own heart will connect with others, too. Perhaps that’s the best quality for a sermon to have. It connects an ancient scripture with contemporary life. It moves from a page in the bible to a place in your mind. It connects the Creator with his creatures. It allows the thoughts and feelings of a prophet or a king or a fisherman to resonate with a parent, a waitress, a student or a welder.

The moment of truth comes when somewhere in my preparation, a word, a phrase, an image or an event suddenly strikes a nerve. It’s hard to describe, but I know it when it happens. It might be a moment of conviction, relief, surprise or joy. But at that moment, I know I have something to say.

For example, I’m preaching on the transfiguration of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel this Sunday (Matthew 17:1-9). The disciples get to see a side of Jesus they’ve never seen before and never get to see again. All kinds of glory wrapped up in a very plain human package. There it is. Great things like computers or gifts are wrapped and shipped and arrive at my house in very plain packages. Church and ministry might seem boring and unexciting, but don’t ever forget all that glory wrapped up in “the body of Christ.”

That’s the thought process that got me to Tuesday. Now I have something to say. I’m still putting it all together for Sunday. But I’ve made a connection. I pray that my hearers will, too.

Posted in Dad, death, Life

What do you say at your father’s funeral?

I was the third of three preachers at my Dad’s funeral. My son Adam (pastor at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church and School, Dallas, TX) went first, followed by my brother Jim (Pastor at St. Athanasius Lutheran Church, Vienna, VA), and then me. Here’s what I said.

“[The women] departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” (Matthew 28:8,9).

That’s a game-changer, isn’t it? It’s a life-changing moment for the women who came to the tomb early on the first day of the week. It’s a life-changing moment for Jesus’ disciples who were hiding in an upper room. It’s a life-changing moment for us who have gathered here today in the name of the one – Jesus – who met them and said, “Greetings!”

Just like us, those women and disciples were dealing with death. On Friday, Jesus had been crucified. Some had heard the sound of nails driven through his hands and feet into the wood of the cross. Some had been there through the three hours of darkness. Some had been there to hear his last words and witness his last breath. Others had wrapped his body in linen and laid it in a tomb. A few witnessed the rolling of a huge stone across the opening of the tomb, to seal it shut. It was a dark day. A sad day. A tear-filled day. A Friday.

But these words are from Sunday, the first day of a new week. The earth shakes. An angel comes rolls away the stone from the tomb. The guards pass out. And the angel says to the women, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” (28:6). The tomb no longer contains a corpse. It is empty. Jesus is no longer dead. He is alive. Jesus’ words about death and resurrection are no longer a prediction. They are now a reality.

This moment really does change everything.

  • Jesus is clearly not just a man or a great teacher. He is truly the eternal Son of God.
  • We can believe every word Jesus says.
  • We are not simply sinners who will always fall short of God’s glory. Jesus died in our place to pay for our sins. We are forgiven. We’ve been declared righteous. We will share his glory.
  • The grave cannot hold God’s people. Not for very long. “For the Lord himself will [one day] descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thess. 4:16).

These truths certainly changed everything for Dad.

  • Baptized ninety-five years ago, he became a child of God.
  • He sought and found the truth in a lifetime of hearing and reading God’s Word.
  • Words of absolution from his pastors (and his sons) continually and consistently announced  God’s forgiveness for all his sins.
  • And now he waits, along with us, for that day, for that voice, for that trumpet and for the resurrection!

These truths have certainly changed things for me! Just about every day I look at the picture of Mom and Dad holding me on my baptism day, September 29, 1957, and remember that I too am a child of God.

Next weekend, when I am back in the pulpit, I’ll be preaching about God’s discipline. The writer of Hebrews says that’s how you know you’re a child of God. Discipline was a little bit different when I was growing up, but Dad never hesitated to remind me that I was his dearly loved son!

I’m not sure how he did it, but somehow Dad got us to fight over who got to read the bible at family devotions. We had to keep a calendar to keep the peace. I don’t remember ever doubting that God’s Word was true.

One of the greatest gifts Dad ever gave was making sure we met Jesus on the way. In the Word. In worship. In song. In prayer. In life. And in death.

Very few people will ever hear of Dad’s faith. Yet his quiet faithfulness, left a legacy. Three pastors – so far. Three generations of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren – all zealous for the Lord. What a great gift to receive. What a great gift to pass along. And what a great gift to celebrate today!  

Preached at the funeral for William Douthwaite, Jr. (1924-2019) at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Ridley Park, PA on Friday, August 16, 2019. The entire service can be viewed here.

Posted in preaching, speaking

They thought I was kidding

As I began preaching yesterday, I mentioned that there are some in the congregation who believe I should more confrontational, more aggressive, more direct in my preaching, along the lines of John the Baptist. JTB didn’t pull any punches calling his audience a “brood of vipers” who didn’t take repentance seriously, basically trees bearing nothing but rotten fruit that should be cut down and burned.

I said that maybe I should zero in on our smug self-righteousness, our neglect of the poor, and our failure to witness. Rather than children of God we look more like the descendants of the serpent himself.

After each of those examples, many in the congregation smiled, snickered and audibly chuckled. As I spoke, I felt personally convicted about each of those offenses, but they didn’t. Either they really didn’t take it seriously, or I didn’t preach the law clearly. And if they didn’t get the law, did they get the gospel? Did they think I was kidding about that, too?

Feedback after a sermon is valuable, but rare. It may come in the form of a comment or question after worship or later in the week. But it might also come in the moment, from a look in their eyes or an expression on their faces. The latter was true yesterday, and it was humbling.

I don’t want to get caught in the trap of believing I’ve got this down, that I know how to effectively reach an audience. As soon as I do, I let down my guard, I don’t work as hard as I should, and I’m nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. You can either humble yourself and work hard, or you can let God humble you so you can get back to work.

Either way, by his grace, there’s another Sunday coming up. Another chance. Thank you!

Posted in Biblical illiteracy, church, Ministry, preaching

Just be there.

IMG_3022It’s early. Really early. It’s dark. Really dark. It’s quiet. Really quiet.

It’s about 6:20 am on a Sunday morning as I pull into the church parking lot to open up, turn off the alarm, turn on a few lights, and get my head and heart into the worship that day. I hear the AC units kick on, and I am thankful they are working today. I unlock all the doors, thankful for all who will enter that day. I turn on all the lights, but quickly dim them all except for those in the chancel. And then in front of an empty room, I preach. I preach my sermon for the first time that day.

I’ve been working on the sermon all week. But it doesn’t come alive until I speak it aloud. My words echo through an empty sanctuary, but in my mind I see all of you who will soon be sitting in those pews. I know where you sit. I know where to look for you. And I am hoping that the word will touch you in the same way it has touched me in the past week.

It’s good to prepare. It’s good to practice. But it’s not really preaching until you are there. It’s so different when I see your face and watch your reaction. It’s not really a sermon until I see you struggle to hold back a tear. Or a giggle. Or look and me wondering, “How did you know?” Or glare at me thinking, “Oh yeah?” Or shake your head in disbelief: “I can’t believe you just said that!”

It’s a sermon when I can tell I’ve touched a nerve. Or pushed a button. Or put my foot in my mouth. Or given you something to hold on to when you thought you were going to fall. Or made you laugh and realize that you’ve been taking it all much too seriously.

I can prep, I can practice and I can preach. But it’s nothing unless you are there. That’s probably the best gift you could ever give your pastor. Just be there. React, respond, repent and rejoice with him (me) because God’s Word is just as amazing, powerful and life-changing as ever!

Posted in sermon

“To what has God called you?”

Transcription of Sunday, October 22, 2017 sermon based on 1 Peter 2:9-10. 

Oct 22 cover picI know that some of you have had the opportunity to take a river cruise in Europe. You’ve ridden on some beautiful boats and sailed down some magnificent rivers. You’ve seen the scenery, cities, cathedrals, and castles. What a great trip!

Others of you had the opportunity to travel to Germany and you’ve toured the places where Martin Luther lived and worked. I know there are a few people in our congregation who have gone to see the passion play in Oberammergau, put one once every ten years.

That’s why there is a buzz in the congregation today. You are really excited because you heard we were going to talk about Luther’s doctrine of vacation! Actually we are talking about Luther’s doctrine of vocation, one of the most important teachings that comes out of the time of the Reformation.

What is your vocation?

When I ask that question you translate it in your mind to, “What do you do for a living?” “What’s your job, profession, or career?” We expand the definition of vocation to include those who are full time parents, students and your side hustle which earns you a little extra money.

That question becomes a little harder to answer once you’ve retired from the workforce. It’s more challenging to answer once you no longer have a job or a profession or a career. Our identities are so tied up in what we do, that we easily lose our identity when we clean out our desk and hand over the keys. Now we don’t have to get up and go to work every day.

What is your vocation?

When the Bible speaks of this, it includes more than just your profession. It’s more than just being a carpenter, fisherman, farmer, shepherd, soldier, government official, or a grower of olive trees. When the Bible speaks of what you vocation is, it refers to your station in life at this time and in this place. This would include more than what you do to earn money. It has to do with relationships, like being a parent or grandparent. Or being a spouse. Part of the community. A citizen of your country.

When we speak about pastors and teachers and those in full time church work, we say they haven’t been “hired,” but “called.” Each one of you has also been called. God has “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Now you are God’s people.

To what has God called you?

Martin Luther wrote about this in reaction to monastic life in the early 16th century. Monastic life is what you take on when you take vows to be monks or nuns. You renounce worldly possessions, promise to remain celibate, spend your time fasting, praying, worshiping and working in your monasteries or cloisters, isolated from the rest of the world. This system developed to the point where people would look up to those who make these vows. They looked up to those who took on that lifestyle and considered them as those who merited God’s favor. It developed into a caste system within the church. Those who had taken these vows merited God’s favor more than other occupations. They were special; everyone else was common or lay people. They were so special they merit favor for ordinary people, too.

The thing is, as good as that sounds, there’s nothing in God’s Word commanding people to take these vows and live that way. There is nothing in God’s Word promising special blessings for those who do those things. These are man-made traditions that developed into very good works for God.

On the other hand God’s Word is filled with descriptions of what God had in mind for his people from the beginning of creation. God instituted things like marriage and family and government and jobs for his people. God’s Word is filled with promised blessing for husbands and wives, parents and children, and for government and citizens.

The whole idea of vocation isn’t a special niche of religious life. It’s not what you do for a living. It’s more about who you are at this point in time. This is not a coincidence or your choice. It’s what God has called you to.

God’s Word makes it very clear that there is nothing to merit his favor. Absolutely nothing. there is nothing you can do to make God happy with you, and there’s nothing you can do that will make God hate you. God’s Word says that clearly in Romans 3: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” Being right in God’s sight is about the law. It comes through faith in Jesus Christ. We attain the righteousness of God through our faith. By his perfect life on this and his innocent suffering and death and his powerful resurrection from the dead, Jesus did everything necessary to merit God’s favor for you. He did everything required. He paid for every single sin. You have that relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Nothing else needs to be done. Nothing else can be done.

To illustrate this Luther used the story of the Christmas shepherds. There’s a story we all know. We all know that when Jesus was born n Bethlehem there were shepherds in the fields at night watching over their flocks. They were the first ones to hear the announcement that a Savior had been born. They were the first ones to go and see the Christ who was just a baby. And then they returned. Where? To their flocks. To their jobs. To their responsibilities. With joy in their hearts and a message on their lips, into the role to which God called them.

We do the same thing. We have heard that our Savior has come. We know that Jesus Christ was born, lived, and rose again. We come hear his voice and to see him. He comes to us in his word and in the sacrament, his body broken for us and his blood poured out for us at the altar. We gather together and we witness God’s grace and then we go. Where? We go back to where we came from. We go back to our lives, to our families, to our homes, our community, to our jobs. We go back and we live as citizens, employers, workers, students. We go right back where God has called us with joy in our hearts a message of good news on our lips.

This would be a really good time to clear up a misconception in the church. I know this is still out there. There is a feeling among Christians that pastors do merit God’s favor more than the ordinary person in the pew. We get a little better seat at the heavenly banquet. God likes us a little bit more. We have greater rewards waiting for us because of the work we do as pastors of churches.

I assure you this is not true. Every single called and ordained servant of the Word is a sinner who has no hope apart from God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In fact, I would contend — and you can disagree with me if you want — that your vocation is more significant than mine. Let me ask you some questions. Do you believe we need Christians in the schools teaching our children? Do you believe we need Christians in government, making, enforcing and interpreting laws? Do you believe we need good Christian doctors operating on us in the hospital and taking care of us when we are recovering? Do we believe we need Christians in the military protecting our freedoms and in the local police department taking care of our communities? Do we need good Christians building houses, remodeling homes? Do we need Christians preparing and serving food and brewing coffee? Do we need Christians in every walk of life? Absolutely.

I’m not doing those things. You are! When God said let there be light, he meant his light would shine into every dark corner of this world. I’m not the one who’s out there. You are.

I’m going to end this morning with some song lyrics. it’s from Matthew West’s song “I sent you.”


I woke up this morning Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”

Posted in sermon

Solus Christus: Christ alone

Transcription of Sunday, October 8, 2017 sermon. 
Oct 8 cover pic

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Those words are as controversial now as they were when were first spoken. But when were those words first spoken?

Let’s go back and look at the whole story that begins in Acts 3 when Peter and John are going up to the temple at the hour of prayer. They come across a man who can’t walk. He’s got something wrong with his legs since his birth. He’s sitting there at the gates of the temple begging. Every day his friends bring him to the temple and they sit him there so he can beg for money. Peter and John approach the temple and see the man. He sees them. They know exactly what he wants. Peter says, “We don’t have any money, but we will give you what we have. I tell you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” He grabs him by the hand and immediately the man’s legs and ankles are strengthened, he’s up on his feet for the first time in his life. He walks into the temple praising God and worshiping him.

Everybody sees this man walking and they know him because he’s always been sitting outside the temple. A crowd gathers. They are just amazed. Peter stands up and says to them, “Don’t be amazed. Remember that Jesus you denied and asked to be killed? God brought him back to life. He is alive. He is active among us. That is why this man is walking.” Everyone is astounded at their message.

Everybody except the religious leaders. The religious leaders are annoyed at what they have to say. They are going around telling everybody that they killed Jesus, and now Jesus is alive again. They bring the apostles in and ask, “So how did you do this?”

Peter says, “We didn’t do anything. Remember that Jesus that you killed? God brought him back to life. He’s alive and active and among us. That’s why this happened here today. Nobody else could do this. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Nobody else can step into this world and do these things except our Lord alone.

What are the religious leaders going to do? They can’t deny that something happened. The healed guy is standing right there. They tell the disciples, “Alright, just keep this to yourselves. Don’t go walking around telling everybody what we did or that Jesus is alive.”

Of course, they didn’t. It just emboldens them to do even more.

We live in a world where many would like us to keep that message to ourselves as well. That whole idea of solus Christus or Christ alone doesn’t resonate very well in this world. Even in our country, we live in a nation where there is religious freedom, which demands tolerance of different religious thought and defends individual beliefs. The prevailing thought is, “You can do whatever you want, you can say whatever you want, you can believe whatever you want, just keep it within the walls of your church.” Don’t bring it out onto the streets.

The problem with that is that message of Christ alone doesn’t resonate well inside the church either. As soon as we say that, that we are saved through faith in Christ alone, we exclude people we know. It excludes people in our families who don’t believe. It excludes friends or people we work with who have other ways of believing or believe in different gods or have different systems of faith. It leaves out people who may never have heard of Jesus. What you’ll find is that inside the church when we talk about Christ alone we use our “inside” voices.

This is hard to do because throughout the pages of scripture the theme of Christ alone echoes from cover to cover.

The Lord says, “Besides me there is no other god, a righteous God and a Savior.  There is none beside me” (Isaiah 45:21).

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation” (Psalm 62:2).

“There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:9).

When Jesus has just lost a number in his congregation because his teachings are too hard to swallow, he turns to his disciples and says, “Are you going to leave too?” Peter says, “Where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6).

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Even though there is a negative side to that, when the Bible speaks of Christ alone, it is a positive message. It is a message that is good news for God’s people. There is somebody who can give life. There is somebody who is a ransom. There is somebody who has come to rescue us. The negative is not the main part of the message. The main part is that there is one who loves you and cares for you and is your Savior.

Let’s look at how Jesus alone, how Christ alone is a positive message. First of all, Christ alone is our ransom. Paul talked about that when writing to Timothy. After he says, “There is one mediator between God and men the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”

You know what a ransom is. A ransom is what you pay to a kidnapper to make them release the person they have taken prisoner. A ransom is what you pay because a virus locked up the data on your computer and you need to get that data back. Jesus is the ransom that pays for our freedom.

Freedom from what? I would contend that we are held captive by any number of things. For instance, fear. We are held captive by so many fears. We are afraid of where the next shootings will be. We are afraid of where the next disaster will hit. We are afraid of the possibility of war. We are afraid of where the next cancer will be. Or when the next heart attack will be. Or will the next death will occur. There are so many things we’re afraid of that it limits us and we don’t want to do things and we just want to stay in our homes and be safe with our families.

We are held captive by deep mistrust of so many. We don’t trust the government. We don’t trust the police. We don’t trust pastors. We don’t trust our neighbors. We don’t trust the teachers in our schools or the coaches of our athletic teams. We don’t trust anybody. So we keep to ourselves and we don’t believe what they say and that keeps us shut up in a small place.

We are held captive, we’ve been kidnapped by despair in our lives. There’s nothing we can do to fix things. Things are not going to get better. We aren’t in control. We don’t know what to do. So we turn off the TV and close the books and we try to pretend its not there.

But there is somebody whose perfect love casts our our fear. Jesus, who’s perfect love is seen on the cross. That’s what love is, that he would give his life for us.

There is somebody you can trust. Jesus is the faithful one. When he says, “I am going to die and come back to life again,” he does it. He keeps his word. He is somebody we can trust.

Jesus doesn’t let us sit there in despair. He gives us hope. There is a resurrection. There is much more to this life than what we see going on around us. God has so much more in store for you. Despair gives way to hope because of that one, Jesus Christ, who ransoms us with his own life to buy us that freedom to live and have hope and to trust and to enjoy the blessings God has given us.

Number two, Jesus has words of life. Sometimes he’s the only one who speaks of life. All we seem to hear about is death. All we see on the news is the latest shooting, or the latest explosion, or the latest disaster that has taken countless lives. Sometimes all we can think about is those who have died and left us behind. Sometimes we get to the point where we’re thinking about our own lives and what that is going to be like.

But Jesus is the one who doesn’t come to us to speak about death but life. He says, “There is somebody in this world who want to kill, steal, and destroy you. But I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. If you believe in me you’re going to live even if you die and if you live and believe in me, it’s as if you’re never going to die at all.” Jesus comes with words of life from the one who can give life to the dead. He comes back to life after his awful death on the cross to show us that his words are words of life.

Jesus is the one who comes to rescue us. Nobody else comes to rescue us. People teach us the way to find enlightenment. Or the way to see things in a positive way. People come and give us tasks to complete so that our lives will be happier or we will be more successful. People come and they remind us that it’s up to us to make the right choices and do the right things. There’s only one who steps into this world, to get a hold of our lives and says, “Let’s get you out of here. Stick with me and you’ll discover what this life is really all about.” Jesus is the only one who does that, who steps in and take us by the hand and brings us back to life.

Jesus is the only one. And that’s what solus Christus, Christ alone, is all about.

That message of Christ alone is the good news. Yes, there is a negative connotation to that. Whoever does not believe in him is condemned. But that’s not the main message. The main message is that we have a Savior and his name is Jesus. He has died for us and he is alive and active in this world.

The whole idea of Christ alone reminds the church that when we go out into the world, that’s what we bring: Christ alone. We don’t just food for people who are hungry. We don’t just bring clothes for people who need something to wear. We don’t just bring justice for those oppressed or find a place to live for those who have no homes. We bring Christ. We bring Jesus. As his hands and feet and voices we are the body of Christ and that’s what we bring.

That’s all we can bring. We don’t have the power, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the knowhow, but we have Christ. We bring him in a very real way with our words and testimony, with our mercy and love, with our presence and our support.

There’s the real power of Christ alone.

Posted in sermon

Sola fide: Faith alone

Transcription of Sunday, September 24, 2017 sermon. 

Sept 24 cover pic

It sounded like a really good deal. I could get the first month for free. No other obligation. Why not give it a try? I gave them my name and mailing address. Then they wanted my credit card number. Why do they want my credit card number? I thought the first month was free. Well the product is free, but you have to pay for the shipping. They also want to change my credit card every month after that when I forget to call them and tell them that and tell them I don’t want to receive this every month. I can see by the looks on your faces that you have been through this process yourselves. Continue reading “Sola fide: Faith alone”

Posted in Grace, Ministry

Better than OK

I wasn’t all that thrilled with last Sunday’s sermon. It was OK, but I wasn’t sure I really connected with the congregation.

Then I began to get some unusual feedback. Unusual because it went beyond the usual, “That was a good sermon, Pastor.” The first comment at lunch that day was, “When we heard the sermon, we knew what we had to do.” Another person three days later told me, “Once we heard your sermon, we were no longer undecided. We had to get involved.” Yet another listener emailed me during the week and stated, “After the sermon, I applied for a local volunteer position, and was immediately accepted.” Not just one, but three people took action because of something they heard in the sermon.

My text and topic really isn’t relevant here. The truth is, I should know better by now. After twenty-seven years of preaching I should know that God’s Word will not return to Him empty, but will always accomplish what He intends. Sometimes I get to hear about the response. Other times I don’t. But I should know that He will do exceedingly more than I ask or imagine. But I am still surprised sometimes.

So I am either putting too much pressure on myself, or I am not trusting God very much. Or I am guilty of both. In any event, when I do get some feedback like that, I know I can relax a little and trust God more. And I can do that right now, because Sunday is always just few days away.

Posted in Grace, Life, Ministry

My son’s first sermon

This past Sunday my son Adam preached his first sermon at our church. He just finished his first year of classes at the seminary, so he’s getting some experience in front of a live audience. We’ve been here in Palm Coast for 14 years, so this is basically the church he’s grown up in. I had hoped that preaching in front of friendly faces, who have been supporting and praying for him would make for a positive start. I was right. And I was impressed. I had read his sermon ahead of time and given a few suggestions, and the final product was excellent (check it out here). He was poised, relaxed, confident and well-spoken. All this in a room where the AC and the sound system weren’t working since the power in the neighborhood went out the second he began preaching!

As a parent, I may have been more nervous than he was. I wanted him to have an enjoyable, positive first experience in the pulpit (even though he didn’t actually use the pulpit). I wanted him to be himself, not feel pressured to be like me. I wanted him to relax knowing that God’s work never returns void, always accomplishing what he intends. By the grace of God, all my parent prayers were answered. The only thing is, now I have a hard act to follow this Sunday!

I’ve searched my mind for memories of preaching my first sermon. No luck so far. I know where I was: Messiah Lutheran Church in Wolcottville, IN, my second-year field work congregation. And I believe I have the manuscript of that sermon. And I know I survived the experience. But I fear the memory has faded, and there is no recording. I suspect I didn’t do nearly as well as Adam did, though.

One memory I do have comes from my early years of ministry in Connecticut. I clearly remember Adam, age 4 and his sister, age 3, sitting at the dining room table one day, each with an open Bible and a page filled with scribbling. When I asked what they were doing, they replied, “We’re writing our sermons.” We may even have a photo of that moment.

I hope those present realized they were getting a chance to see the next generation of pastors being prepared by our seminaries. Our professors are doing a great job! But I also hope they see that they play a big part in preparing the next generation of church workers, too. God certainly uses the many years of prayer, encouragement, grace, example, and teaching of a Christian congregation to prepare and send out workers into his harvest fields. It certainly is a privilege — as a parent, a pastor, and a member — to be a part of that process.