So today I gave my first “preach” as the South Africans here in Tanzania call a sermon. To be quite forthright, I wouldn’t really blog about it and hesitate to do so even now, but the circumstances surrounding it were a bit surreal. That, and my wife is encouraging me to do so.
For starters, public speaking, teaching, preaching is a little bit one-and-the-same to me. I know my seminary/ordained friends would raise issues with me saying that, but my point is simply this: public speaking is something I enjoy, have some modest talent in, and it doesn’t really phase me. I enjoy every opportunity I get to hone the craft of delivering a good speech or, in this case, a good preach.
Just after the first of the year, one of my colleagues asked me if I would be willing come preach at his church today. I agreed and was a bit excited to again have the opportunity to prayerfully prepare a message.
A couple weeks passed and last Monday I knocked on his office door seeking a few more details of what I should preach on, order of the service, etc.
“Marc. Have a seat.”
He then proceeds to tell me they have recently found out that their pastor has been having an international affair and has used church money to sustain this relationship. He then told me that just this last week (the 19th) they told the congregation the news and informed the congregation that they were suspending their young, much-loved pastor whom they had supported through seminary.
I was to be the first sermon post-pastor suspension.
I may have actually preferred at that very moment to have been hit with a ton of bricks.
This was to be my first sermon ever formally preached during a Sunday morning worship service.
And it was to take place in the most awful of circumstances.
My heart sank, not for me, but for the Church. This church, the church visible and the Church invisible, the bride of Christ. Yet again Christ’s Bride has been marred by the stain of sin. This church, with good people, doing a good ministry in a city and a nation starved for the Gospel and lacking in leaders who have integrity, has just been ripped apart by the uncontrolled passions of a broken man.
What in the world, what in the Bible am I going to preach on? How do you even begin to wrap your mind around this? What do you say in a moment like this? Especially as an outsider, even more especially as a mzungu.
As he told me all of the details, one phrase kept popping into my head, “What you intended for evil, God has meant for good.” I knew the phrase was from Joseph’s story and my mind quickly recounted Joseph’s life. The details aren’t pretty. Sold into slavery by jealous brothers. Wrongly accused of sexual assault - even today a person’s reputation cannot come back from such a charge, even if it is found out to be wrong. Sentenced to prison. Forgotten about. Then made the second highest person in all of Egypt. Great power, great authority. Anything Joseph wants, a word and it’s his. Even revenge on his brothers.
I endeavored to show through Genesis 50 how Joseph used his earthly power and sovereignty for good and not for evil. I then compared him to Christ in John 6. Both feed. Both show grace and mercy.
The response was pleasant and several commented on the timeliness and the appropriateness of the message.
So I’ve preached my first sermon and it was a far from exciting and jubilant as I had always envisioned. Instead of talking about how wonderful life is and “Ain’t it great to be loved by God?! Yeah!!” I had to gentle call God’s people to grace and forgiveness, to remember that the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. I reminded them, as Jesus does Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7 (I think I said Matthew in my preach. Whoops!) that those who have been forgiven love more.
It was quite a position to be in and I believe by God’s grace it went as well as could be expected. I felt like my delivery was smooth, the content was strong, and the Gospel was faithful preached. I pray that it may have done some good for God’s glory.
Postscript. I was able to record my preach. I’ve been using my iPhone in my Church history class to record lectures for students who might miss. It’s an idea I got from my beloved friend and former professor, Dr. Doug Felch who meticulous recorded ever lecture for a variety of reasons. I’m posting a link to the transcript and the audio file, not as a way of bragging or showing off. Had I done this in the States, I’m guessing many family and friends would have attended and showed support. As that isn’t possible (even my wife wasn’t able to hear it due to her worshipping leading responsibilities at God’s Tribe), I make it available for folks to have a bit of a shared experiences. I’m not simply doing it to show off or to get likes or compliments. Perhaps some may listen and it might do some good I could never imagine. And I welcome feedback - positive and negative. I would only ask that it is negative or critical (which I’m happy to receive), that you email me or private message me. Thanks! And thanks for all the support and prayers - they have been greatly appreciated and comforting more than you could know!