At sundry times and in diverse manners, literally around the world, I have accepted the call to preach. I have brought the word to believers beneath tree groves and in mud huts in the villages surrounding Jinja, Uganda; to a hundred or so genocide-orphaned children at Roz Carr's orphanage outside Gisenyi, Rwanda (in the shadow of an active volcano, whose gray ash litters the bare ground); to handfuls of gatherings of young converts to the faith in apartment churches throughout the city of Tomsk, Russia; to fellow undergraduate students and friends in the chapel on the hill of ACU's College of Biblical Studies; and to fellow seminarians in classrooms at the Candler School of Theology.
But I have never actually preached in an American congregational gathering for worship on a Sunday morning.
That changes a week from this Sunday. I preach the second sermon of a three-month series on mission, in particular on the language of "cup" in the prophets, in Jesus' life and work, and in the life of the church. (It's germane and interesting, I promise!) I will be standing before about 1,300 individuals for whom gathering to worship is ordered to and for the proclamation of the word. The man whose shoes I will be filling has preached here for 13 years, and is a sought-after preacher and teacher in churches of Christ. To give you an idea of the kind of trust he has built with the congregation -- and the quality of his sermons -- two days ago, on Memorial Day, he preached for 40 minutes on the work of the Spirit in Acts 1, 2, 8, and 10 in leading the Jerusalem church outside its ethnic and ideological borders to recognize the "all" of the Spirit's giving as truly for all people. This culminated in imagining together what Peter saw in Acts 10: a military, religious, and ethnic enemy in occupation of one's own land, bent to the ground in prayer -- and God willing by his Spirit that Peter come and see in person the truth that with God there is no favoritism, that in fact Christ did die for all, that indeed neither the good news nor the Holy Spirit is kept from any individual or group. The sermon ended in radical and subversive exhortation to cross all boundaries and divisions, "to see the man praying," to answer the call of Jesus to pray blessing for our enemies.
So, it is both an extraordinary gift and a high task to be asked to preach next week. I approach it in fear and trembling, but also, through prayer, in the boldness* with which all proclamation must finally happen, for faithfulness to the word of the gospel and speaking it truthfully is wholly more important than one's petty insecurities or concerns for adulation. May God rid me of all pretension: may he strip me bare of all pride: may he purify me by the fire of his Spirit to be a fool for Christ crucified: may he gives me ears to hear and words to speak the truth of the gospel.
Only the One who is at once Speaker, Spoken, and Subject is able to heed these requests. I look forward with hopeful anticipation to seeing just how he does so, and with what surprise.
*Strangely enough, for all of my serious theological disagreements with him, watching and listening to John Piper preach is the most energizing activity for me in this time of preparation. I could dislike every other word that is coming out of his mouth, and I still find myself awestruck at the utterly clarified purpose and boldness with which he proclaims the word. I invariably find myself wholly forgetful of any and all personal anxieties, and in their place desire only to stand before God's people and speak truthfully and faithfully. That all those called to bring the word were so committed, empowered, fearless, and focused!