Thursday, November 30, 2017

Called To Preach: Forty Years and Counting

        Forty years ago this month I listened to the words from the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you to be a prophet.”  From the time I was sixteen years old I never had any doubt that God was calling me to be a preacher.  People have asked me how I could know, how could I be certain.  Did I hear a voice? 

        No, I never heard a voice.  It was much louder than that.  It was in my DNA, it is who I am. 

        This calling became official in December of 1977 when my first church ordained me to the Gospel ministry.  Rev. Donald Myers, the retired longtime pastor of the Reidsville First Baptist Church who had been instrumental in my calling to the Pollocksville Baptist Church, delivered a heartfelt sermon in which he told the congregation not to expect me to hit a homerun every Sunday!

        I asked my father to deliver the “charge to the candidate.”  I can’t remember anything he said, but the fact my father was there was all I need to remember.  The church presented me with a Bible and congratulated me on my ordination.  I was a now a bona fide, certified, card carrying, genuine preacher!

        Four decades later with over 2,000 sermons and 500 funerals, plus hundreds of baptisms, weddings, baby dedications, hospital visits, invocations, Bible studies and blessings—I’m still going. 

        As a preacher there are a lot of things I do, and to be honest, a lot of things I could do without.  As in any job or profession there are tedious tasks that come with the territory.  I could do without a lot of the administrative work, meetings, scheduling, and especially listening to complaints.  But I cannot do without preaching.  It is who I am. 

        A lot of people, my family included, told me I should not preach the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  They were concerned with good reason because I had just had gall bladder surgery three days before.  But I told them I could not miss Thanksgiving Sunday.  I had even more reason to be thankful and I wanted to deliver a sermon on gratitude, and that is exactly what I did.  I wasn’t trying to prove a point or be heroic—take my gall bladder out but don’t take away my preaching!   That is who I am!

        I find complete fulfillment in sharing good news.  The word “Gospel” means, “good news.”  When I was in college I had a kindly religion professor, Dr. Mabry Lunceford, who constantly reminded us that “preaching is good news!”  We have the greatest possible news to share:  hope in the midst of despair, light in the midst of darkness, and even life in the midst of death.   “Why should you be negative,” Dr. Lunceford would ask, “when the Gospel is good news?” 

        In most denominations there is an ordination council that determines whether one can be ordained or not.  There was one member of my ordination council who voted against me.   This old Baptist preacher was an advocate of closed communion.  He believed in an exclusive Gospel and asked me if I thought Baptists should share communion with other denominations.  The question seems tame today, but it was a highly charged issue for him 40 years ago. 

        My answer was that it is the Lord ’s table, not mine, and I would be honored to share communion with whoever the Lord invites to his table.  Well, he didn’t like it and that old codger pitched a hissy fit right there in front of God, me, the entire council and the heavenly host.  They finally asked me to leave the room so they could calm him down.  He voted against me, but the rest of the council voted in the affirmative.

        That is one negative vote I am proud to have earned.  If I want to be remembered for anything it is that I preached an inclusive Gospel of love, forgiveness, acceptance and grace.  The Gospel is good news!  For everyone!   I’ve only had forty years to share it—I hope to have many more, because I was called to be a preacher!

1 comment:

  1. Ray, You had a wise response at such a young age to that closed-communion fellow! And we had much wisdom from such luminaries as Mabry Lunceford at Samford. Thank you fro this reminiscence!