By Derik Hamby
This month I got to sit in the congregation with my 7-year-old daughter. My wife is in choir, so she usually sits with friends. It was nice to enjoy worship with her.
I was exiled from my pulpit on purpose. Jaime Fitzgerald, a sophomore at Carson-Newman, was delivering her very first sermon at her home church. We were also participating in the Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching in honor of Baptist women in ministry everywhere.
Sitting there I remembered that 21 years ago I preached my first sermon. I was 19 when my home church invited me to preach the word. Now 40, I was sitting and listening to another college student begin her own preaching journey.
I remembered how terrifying it was to stand there behind that pulpit and look at those faces staring back at me. I had sat through my share of sermons in my life time, and now it was my turn.
I had heard sermons that had inspired me to go and change the world. I had also heard more than enough sermons that lulled me into a catatonic state. I spent my share of goofing off on the back pew with my friends during church. Now it was my turn to preach and notice that the preacher really can see everything those kids are doing back there. I realized that the preacher really can see who is with it and who is a million light years away.
It was a sermon that best stays in the past. If a crazed scientist and a cool kid in a Delorean offered to take me back to that moment, I’d pass. But I had to do it. I had to get that first sermon out so I could start that long journey that I’m still traveling.
Listening to Jaime, I noticed how some things change and some things remain the same. She gave a far better first sermon than I gave. It was moving, well prepared and gave evidence of the preacher she is going to become.
When I was her age we never envisioned young women preaching a first, second or any kind of sermon. Yet our church was packed. We had a crowd that was larger than some of our Easter services.
Folks were thrilled to hear Jaime’s message and affirmed her. This was someone who grew up in this church, heard God’s call here and is now going out to do God’s work, and being female simply didn’t matter.
Jaime went through the same emotions and fears all of us do the first time we stepped into that pulpit and opened our Bibles. The excitement, fear and joy all were present. Cameras were out and video was rolling. This was a big day for Jaime, but really it was a bigger day for our church.
It was a big day for our congregation because we saw that God is calling people from our church to go and proclaim. It was a big day for our Sunday school teachers, children’s leaders and others who saw that their hard work does pay off. It was a big day for the little girls in that room that could see that they, too, can follow God’s call and be who God calls them to be. Tears were shed and smiles filled the room.
After I gave my first sermon, word got out about this “young preacher boy” who was ready to preach the word. Small churches all over the area invited me to come and preach. I got some great experience and gave some really bad sermons.
Remembering this I felt some sorrow creep up on that good day. Jaime isn’t a young preacher boy. She is young and talented, but she is a woman. The small churches are not going to call her like they would if her name was James. There will be fewer calls and opportunities to preach.
Or will there?
Will some churches open their doors to dynamic preachers like Jaime? I hope so. I hope that folks will open themselves up to the Spirit’s movement. Remember, it wasn’t Philip’s sons who preached.