Sometimes I think God creates situations in our lives just so that later we’ll have a good story to tell. The drama surrounding the first time I preached a few weeks ago is certainly one of those stories.
As I approached the final turn before reaching Campbellton UMC, the church where I would be preaching for the first time in my life, traffic slowed to a crawl. I didn’t really have time for this delay since it was getting close to the 11 o’clock hour. Earlier in the morning I helped serve communion at Peachtree Road UMC, and in good circuit preacher fashion I drove 40 minutes to Campbellton for their morning service. I inched forward in my car and eventually witnessed the hold up: numerous police directing traffic around six overturned vehicles which had recently been extinguished from flames.
Immediately I began to pray.
A few hours before, I had woken earlier than usual and prayed that God would work through me and despite me, and that feelings of inadequacy in my preaching would be met with the Holy Spirit. I further acknowledged that on my own I was completely incapable of changing people’s lives in the congregation.
Looking at the wreckage in the intersection changed the focus of my prayers. “God, if people from this congregation are dead in this car wreck I cannot handle being the preacher in this church today. You know I haven’t had training for this type of thing and there’s a large chance I will say or do the wrong thing. I desperately need your help. Amen”
After my prayer and a long while of creeping through traffic I pulled into the parking lot and a leader from the church greeted me. I introduced myself and told him how sad it was that there had been such a tragic accident.
“All that? That’s a scene from a new Zombie TV show they’re filming today.” I laughed a little bit too — mainly in disbelief and in order to release some of my stress.
Once inside I tried to relax as I was introduced to various members of the congregation. One lady said, “Preacher? You’re not the preacher today. We lined up someone else whose name is already in the bulletin.” The man who was escorting me around looked a little uncomfortable and confused. I’m sure I looked similar.
I stepped back and let them handle this situation. Eventually the man told me there had been some miscommunication in the congregation and they decided that I should go ahead and preach that day in lieu of a preach-off. At this point in the story I like to think that my first impression struck them so deeply that they decided to bump the other guy out. But realistically they knew it would be harder for me to get back out to their church, my whole family was there, and I was sixty years younger than the other preacher.
So we worshiped, God’s Word was proclaimed, and ultimately He was glorified. And in the end I was simply thankful no one was dead.
Oh, and about a year later I finally figured out the name of the tv show they were filming: The Walking Dead.
Click here to download an mp3 recording of my sermon or listen on the player below. Heads up – it is a low quality recording from my Blackberry, but I like the way it sounds similar to an old time Gospel hour on AM radio.
An Encounter with Christ – Luke 7:11-17