So beyond the Sunday morning sermon there were two other "sermon" slots. A short 20-or-so minute sermon on Sunday nights. And a 5-10 minute devotional talk after the bible study on Wednesday night.
These were the slots--Sunday evening and Wednesday night--where some of us could try our hand at preaching. You'd start off on a Wednesday night, and if you did good at that, you'd be offered to do a Sunday evening service. And if you were really, really good then you might get a Sunday morning sermon if the preacher was out of town.
As young person in junior-high and high-school I started working my way up through these slots. People in my church enjoyed listening to me and I felt I had a knack for preaching.
There weren't many Churches of Christ in our area. And the ones that did exist were smaller than our church, 20 to 40 people, and, given their size, they didn't have a preacher. So these smaller congregations were always eager to have someone guest preach. Word got out in the area that there was a high-school kid who was a pretty good preacher. So on some Sundays during my senior year of high-school my parents would drive me an hour or two to a small church and I'd preach for them.
Then I went off to college. And the college I attended, as a part of their recruiting efforts, would bus a bunch of us students to an area church on Sunday mornings. We brought a singing group and an acting troop. The students would lead the worship service and there would be a potluck afterward. And then the singing and acting groups would provide some entertainment. It was a win/win. The church had a special event Sunday and the college students, craving some home-cooking, would get a church potluck dinner.
Obviously, given that the school wanted to make a good impression upon the church and the families of prospective students, the admissions department wanted to have good speakers lined up to do the sermons for these churches. When I got to the school I let them know I'd done a lot of preaching in high-school. They tried me out and I eventually became one of the more heavily used preachers on these trips. So I ended up preaching a lot in college as well.
One day on campus Liz--who was a regular on these trips and, thus, had heard me preach a great deal--came up to me and said, "You know what I'm going to call you?"
"What?" I asked.
"The Preacher of Love."
At some point during my senior year in high-school my preaching had started focusing on a singular subject: God is love. I began preaching on that theme almost exclusively. Whenever or wherever I preached that was my topic. The love of God.
It wasn't the same sermon. But each sermon--with new texts, new stories, and new jokes--always had one point in view. The love of God.
I didn't think any other subject was worth talking about in comparison. If I was going to guest preach at a church, if this was going to be my first and last sermon for you, then I wanted to say the most important thing I could think of.
God is love.
So that's what I preached about. Over and over.
Liz noticed it, so that's what she called me. The Preacher of Love.
Sort of an embarrassing moniker, but you often don't get a chance to pick your own nickname.
But looking back on it now, I can see how something crystallized within me then that I've never let go of. Theologically, I'm still that kid in the pulpit. I don't think I've ever stopped preaching that sermon.
I think I really only believe one thing about God. I believe that God is love. That's what I believe. And I believe it passionately.
So everything is filtered through that lens. It is my creed. It is my hermeneutic. It is the heart and substance of my faith.
God is love.
That is the only sermon I've ever wanted to preach.