September 16th, 2001

Sunday, September 16th, 2001. A day I would love to have back.

Five days after the tragic of events of what is now called “9-11.”

I was just over four months into my first pastorate. I was preaching through the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. The scheduled text for that week was “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

The church was full. Packed. People standing in the back. On a normal Sunday, we averaged 75 or so. On this day, there were at least twice that.

People came needing answers.

People came needing comfort.

People came needing to hear about a big God.

People came needing to know there was a Savior who loved them, though it didn’t feel like it.

People were hungry and thirsty for the reality of a strong, loving, empathetic, and majestic God.

Yours truly, however, stayed with his plan. I preached on how we need to show mercy. I preached about what mercy was/is; how we get it and how we show it. I yelled for 30 minutes about how we just need a little more mercy in our lives.

They left and went home. Probably more defeated than when they came.

Only half came back the following Sunday. . .

I don’t blame ’em.

The people who came to Friendship Baptist Church that day needed mercy from their preacher; not talked to about how they needed more of it.

Do we all need a good sermon on mercy? Sure.

Is Matthew 5:7 a great text? Of course.

Is preaching through the Beatitudes a good thing? You bet.

Should I have stayed on schedule to get through the “next” Beatitude? No way.

I completely ignored the thoughts and feelings and emotions and needs of what all of America was going through. I kept my head in the sand and proceeded to do “my thing” according to “my” schedule. What I should have done is punted. Punted the Beatitudes for a week or so, and opened up to Psalm 23 or 46 or 63 or 84 or 103.

Preacher, there will be times when you need to go off script. There are circumstances that demand us to pause and help our people get a big and real vision of the greatness of God. There are Sundays and seasons our people need to know that we are tapped into what they are dealing with. Don’t do what I did on Sunday, September 16th, 2001.

I pray there will never be a need to address such a tragedy again. But if there is, I pray I love my people enough to help them see and behold and trust and love and run to the great and mighty God of the Scriptures.