One of you emailed me and said that I really am tantalizing you with this story in three parts! But it goes to show what a significant event it has been for me!
It is always difficult knowing what has happened when you preach a sermon. Preachers are notoriously subjective judges - either running ourselves down too quickly, or patting ourselves on the back too enthusiastically. The truth is that only one - or rather the Three-in-One - can judge a sermon's effectiveness. It's not just what happens in the moment, but the longer term impact as the Holy Spirit goes on working in the lives of hearers (and preachers) and the community.
However, for me, the most wonderful part was how some of the preachers present went out of their way over the next three days to comment positively about the sermon. Sometimes in overview, at other times with one detail or another. Almost the first person was a very "big name" in the preaching world, who bounded across to say: "Michael you have no idea how much I needed to hear that word tonight. It really ministered to me in ways you will never know." Another took my hand and told me some of the journey they went on as the Scripture spoke to them. Of course, one or two were critical, and I know it would have been very different from how many others would have preached the same text.
One of the most interesting comments came from a third party who said: "I just have to tell you this. So-and-so (another "big name") told me that he had come in the spirit that he was "going to take you on!" But within a few sentences of your beginning, he knew how inappropriate was his attitude. All his negative presumptions melted away as he listened!"
I let you know this because I am so grateful for many of my students and friends who really supported me. You know, for good and baser reasons, I really wanted to share God's good news within this academic guild of preachers. At the end of the conference, before the Benediction, David Schlafer invited us all to share those moments that had hit us throughout the meetings. And then he began by referring to a line in my own sermon: "It's not beautiful voices or words that God can best use, but beautiful feet as his messengers go close to people and tell them good news."
It's back to reality now with all the grading at the end of term, and a picking up again of my book manuscript that has long been pushed onto the back-burner. But I praise God for the ups-and-downs of my Washington experience. Thanks for partnering me.