Saturday afternoon I received a phone call that there had been a suicide in our small community. A young man who attended our church had taken his life. I spent the afternoon with his family and the evening with his classmates. We opened our building up to the grieving to give them a place to meet, mourn and even blow off some steam.
We had planned an anniversary open house for the weekend (one year anniversary in our new building). Those plans had to be cancelled, but they left us with many cookies and refreshments to bless the hurting kids. We will do the open house sometime later.
These kinds of interruptions are bound to happen in ministry and they are times that you cannot prepare for. All you can really do is prepare yourself. We decided that Sunday morning’s planned service would be scrapped and we would do a few encouraging old hymns and I would present a short message/communion meditation. Without much sleep, I woke up on Sunday morning still not sure what I was going to do.
I posted on Facebook to share our change of plans and ask for some encouragement for myself. A few minutes later a message came from Chuck Sackett, one of my professors and now the preaching minister at the very interesting Madison Park Christian Church in Quincy, Illinois. Every preacher needs a preacher, and Chuck is one of mine. I listen to his sermon podcasts every week along with a few other preachers. It’s one of the ways I keep myself fed.
I wonder if there are any preachers for whom I am their preacher. Poor guys.
As I got ready for the day I stepped into the shower and played one of Chuck’s sermon podcasts. It was his message from May 4th on Isaiah 40, “Your God is Too Small.” It was not about suicide. It was not a communion meditation. But it gave me the jump start I needed to put my message together.
I liked the fairly simple verse-by-verse exposition. It’s not something I do very often but this text really lends itself to that kind of preaching.
One of the mistakes we can make in moments like this is to say too much. People are confused, they are numb and they’re in no condition to follow extended thoughts. Give them something simple to hold onto. “Is your God too small?” I think people will remember that question. I think they will remember some of the visuals–holding the oceans in his hand, measuring the sky with his hand.
And the sermon seems to have connected. As of this writing it has been played 81 times. Normally I might have 25-30 plays of my latest message in a week.
The first time I preached through a tragedy was while I was in college. The previous minister was a deputy sheriff and was killed in the line of duty. As a young preacher my own well wasn’t deep enough to know what to say to bring comfort to his friends. So, I adapted Arthur John Gossip’s, “When Life Tumbles In, What Then?” Years later I would preach following the death of one of our church kids in a car wreck. I adapted some thoughts from Philip Yancey’s “Disappointment with God.”
I’ve learned that in these times it’s ok to not be original. It’s a time to draw from your own sources of strength. The best thing you can do is to go to the wells where you draw your own water day-by-day and share it with those who are thirsty.