I am so grateful to my brothers and sisters at St. John Baptist Church for the way they love me and honor me and make Carrie-Anne and me feel right at home and an important part of their fellowship. Anthony Harris, the powerful pastor at this faithful church, invited me to preach in their pulpit yesterday and it was an absolute thrill! Anthony and I have become great friends and partners in the Gospel together over the past year or so. He is a tremendous encourager and a bearer of God’s image to me. And I was so humbled and, frankly, excited, to preach in their church. I’ve never preached in an African-American church before – it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
You can watch the whole church service on St. John’s Facebook page (the service begins at the 10:30 mark, the sermon starts at the 37:25 mark). But it won’t do justice to the energy and the love and the unity we all experienced together yesterday.
Delivering a sermon in a Black church really is a “preaching event.” And, I must admit, it took me a few minutes to adjust. There’s a timing and a groove, it’s a back and forth, there’s a call and response – the sermon truly is a congregational event. Everybody participates!
First, Anthony arranged for Stephanie Michaels to sing “Because He Lives” right before the sermon (at the 31:05 mark). Goodness gracious! The mighty force of her voice, the conviction in her heart, the compelling connection she makes with every person in the room – whoa! Anthony calls himself my friend, but he cursed me by making me follow her. As I made my way to the pulpit and waited for the piano to finish playing…
…the piano didn’t stop playing. I waited. And waited. I smiled. And then I realized Isaac was not going to stop playing the piano until I started speaking. He’ll fade out once I start speaking over him. And that’s the way it was for the next 30-minutes. I needed to stop after every other sentence as the church responded to what I was saying. I had to learn on the fly how to acknowledge the church as they clapped and shouted “Hallelujah!” while I was in the middle of a thought. I quickly discovered there is no such thing as a rhetorical question during a sermon in a Black church – the church answers out loud! I also realized that if I don’t get a handle on this, it’s going to be a 90-minute sermon!
My brothers and sisters at St. John Baptist come to church expecting to hear a word from the Lord. They’re geared up for it, anticipating it. God is going to speak through this servant in front of us and we want to listen to him and be moved. It’s not just a head thing at St John Baptist, the Sunday sermon is a heart thing, too. The sermon contains facts and truth, but it’s just as full of emotion and feeling. The congregation was preaching the sermon with me, finishing my sentences when I quoted Scripture, answering my questions when I dared to ask them, speculating out loud during open-ended paragraphs, discovering with me the points I was trying to make – I waited on them a couple of times and they slowed down when they got ahead of me a couple of times – exalting in them and praising God the whole time. And it was an absolute blast!
It was thrilling! Completely thrilling! And exhausting. I loved every minute of it, but I’m not sure I could do that Sunday after Sunday, week in and week out.
I am so grateful to my godly, big-picture, Kingdom-view elders here at Central for allowing me – no, encouraging me! – to preach in other churches like this. My shepherds know that anytime our churches can put aside our denominational differences, our racial differences, our puny little insignificant differences, and come together in the presence of God, in the name of Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit to do anything, it’s a big deal. It is so important that people see this and know that it’s happening and experience it for themselves. If we believe Ephesians 2, that Christ died on the cross to destroy the barriers that separate us from God and us from each other, we’d better be all about it. What happened at St. John Baptist yesterday matters. It was a Kingdom of God moment. And I want to be in on more of those kinds of moments.
Thank you to Anthony and Tonya and Isaac and Stephanie and Jasmine and Ed and Trina and all the glorious saints at that important church on 14th Street. I thank God for your faithful witness in our community and for your sacrificial service in the Kingdom of our Lord. I spent all day yesterday relishing the sweet fellowship and Christian unity we experienced together. And I’ll spend a lifetime in gratitude to God.