Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

One sermon – two reactions

The year was 1988. This year was proclaimed by the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (where I originate from and which also sent me as missionary to Swaziland) as a Year of Missions. As one of the full-time missionaries of that church I was often invited to preach in congregations in South Africa and also invited to attend “mission weeks” in different places. There were sometimes weeks on end that we were away from home, or only returned to do the washing before we took the next trip – this with two boys, one of three and another just over one that had to accompany us. But in all it was a good and necessary year.
One particular Sunday stands out from all the rest. I was invited to preach in Johannesburg one Sunday morning. Johannesburg is like all large cities – if you don’t know where you are going to, you’re in trouble. I received fairly accurate instructions on the roads I had to travel to get to the specific church. Up to this day I don’t know whether the telephonic instructions were wrong or whether I wrote it down incorrectly, but I set out in good time to be there and then got lost. (This was in the time before mobile phones and GPSs). Searching for church steeples in the hope that I would find something familiar, just got me deeper and deeper into trouble. At 9 am, when the service was due to start, I was still totally lost. Eventually, at 9.45 I stopped at the church, totally flustered and out of breath and rushed into the church where I found someone on the pulpit who had decided that he would bring a short message before sending the people home. He vacated the pulpit so that I could take over. I remember that I preached about the Great Commission in Matthew 28. But perhaps it would have been better for the congregation that morning to have listened to an unprepared sermon instead of listening to me! When I left the church afterwards, I just knew that this day had been a disaster. And to crown it all, I had to preach that evening in one of the very large churches in Pretoria and I was intending to use the same sermon as the morning. Oh, how I prayed that day that God would bless that evening’s service.
One thing which I rarely do in my sermons is to refer to the Greek and Hebrew in which the Bible was originally written. But to understand Matthew 28 one also has to understand something about the Greek grammatical construction used by Matthew. (I’ll write something about that at a later stage). This is one of my rare sermons where I started by explaining the Greek before getting into the message. As I got behind the lectern, I looked at the congregation and my heart missed a beat. Right in front of me, in the very first row, sat my Greek professor who had taught me at university and in his hand he had – you guessed it – his Greek New Testament. Fortunately I had some very strong evidence for the point I was going to make, so I jumped in and trusted that I wouldn’t see frowns (or smiles) appearing on this professor’s face 😉
The amazing thing that happened was that that congregation truly heard the Word of God that evening. Somehow they were touched by God’s commission. They made contact with me afterwards and after nearly twenty years they still have regular contact with us, having special collections for Swaziland and earlier this year I was invited back to them to tell them about the work we are presently involved in around HIV and AIDS.
What was an extremely humiliating experience in the morning changed into a glorious experience that evening. I’ve never heard a word again from the first congregation. Most probably they were very thankful never to hear from me either! But it was amazing that God could use one sermon, in contents more or less the same and bring about two entirely different reactions.


Monday, September 17, 2007 - Posted by | Building relations, HIV & AIDS, Humour, Mission, Partnership, Prayer, Swaziland, Theology

1 Comment »

  1. I have experienced this in my teaching. One year I gave a particular part of the lesson and no one said a word (we have interactive lessons with lots of discussion). The next year, I gave the same exact lesson and the new class gobbled it up like their life depended on it. I didn’t even finish the lesson because they wanted to hash it out for nearly the whole hour. Very, very different reception!

    Comment by Maya | Monday, September 17, 2007 | Reply

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