All My Bags Are Packed

The first sermon I ever preached was in a small village chapel in England. It was the summer before my final year in college. I was serving as a student missionary with the Baptist State Convention.
I cannot recall the text I preached on, and I cannot place the content of my sermon. But, I do remember this. The worship service was a particularly powerful moment for me as I experienced my call to ministry confirmed. It was a good and important day for me.
I have been invited to preach this Sunday at Kerygma Baptist Church in Holguin, Cuba. Just as Pastor Ernesto preached for us when he was visiting last summer, I have been asked to return the favor. Unlike my first international preaching engagement back in 1996, this sermon will need to be translated. This will be a new experience for me as I’ve never had to consider the seesaw dynamic that will emerge between me and our translator. Lucky for them, my sermon will be double the length. Lucky for you, you won’t have to sit through it.
And yet, I thought that you might appreciate the opportunity to read what I will be preaching in Cuba this Sunday. Below is a sermon with a couple of salient objectives—namely, that it can be easily translated and second, that it can be a good follow-up to our church’s previous trips to Holguin. The sermon is one-part personal introduction, one-part celebration of our partnership, one-part discussion on the Biblical text, and one-part presentation of our gift to their church. (I know, that’s a lot of ‘parts’ for a sermon to have)
Thank you for your support as we travel to our sister-church. Thank you for your prayers as we travel. My family and I are most-grateful for your encouragement and investment in our trip. I look forward to seeing you next week.

Rooted in Christ, Colossians 1 & 2
When I was a boy, I wanted to grow up to be a weather man. I loved to look at maps. I loved to study the clouds. I loved the drama of an afternoon rain storm. I loved the refreshment of rain drops in a drought. But above all, I loved snow.

Although my family is from the mountains of Western North Carolina, I spent most of my childhood growing up in the city of Atlanta. It doesn’t snow much in Atlanta, and I was lucky if I saw one dab of snow in the winter months each year. When my family moved to the North Carolina mountains when I was a youth, I was delighted by the unique, and at times, fantastic weather events. In the mountains, the mornings were chilly and cloaked in fog. Snow was more plentiful and more frequent than in the city of Atlanta. And the rain made the mountain valleys and coves a lush green. And the trees! The trees that covered the mountains were glorious! Feasting off the plentiful rain, the diversity and variety of the trees made the forest seem like a magical land from a fairy tale. Because of the rain, and the cloudy mountain coves, the trees flourished and provided a canopy that shielded the forest floor from the sun. And in the fall, when the weather would begin to shift from hot to cold, a metamorphosis would occur in the trees. The leaves would change color from a dark green to vibrant shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple.

Of course, I didn’t become a weather man. When I went off to college, I discovered that I was not good at math, and was even worse in science. During this time, however, I learned that God was calling me to be a pastor. I fought God’s call for some time. I ignored God’s direction. I denied God’s desire for my life. But I could not escape God’s will. Like Jonah who ran in the opposite direction from where God wanted him, God kept bringing me back to where God wanted me.

Over the years, I’ve served in a variety of capacities with the church. I have worked with children. I have served with youth. I have been a pastor to college students. I have become a pastor to an entire congregation. But I have never given up my love for studying the weather. My love for weather and the natural world has enriched my ministry. God’s world has been a marvelous classroom for me to learn more about God’s Word.

Last year, Pastor Ernesto visited with us at our church in North Carolina. I had the honor of showing your pastor around the mountains that I love. We went high up on the mountains. We walked through the forest coves and valleys. We rode together in a boat on our lakes and rivers. And as we spent time together, our friendship grew. Although we do not speak a common language, the language of love and brotherhood confirmed that we are sons of the same Father—our Father in Heaven.

A few moments ago, I read to you a passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Colosse. The book of Colossians is a letter from Paul to a partnering church. The church, like our two churches, needed a word of encouragement. And Paul, as we see, does not mince words. His message was curt. He said, “Don’t give up on Jesus! Don’t be diluted by the culture. Don’t be diluted by fear and anxiety about the threats you face. Be strong knowing that Christ will give you the grit you need to stand firm. The world will seek to misdirect you. But do not be deceived by its false teachings. Christ is supreme!”

Paul reminds the church that God has rescued us from the power of darkness so that we can share in the inheritance of the saints in light. To be rescued from darkness means that we are redeemed. To be redeemed means that we are forgiven. To be forgiven means that we become sons and daughters of God.

Kerygma Baptist Church, Paul’s words of encouragement to the church in Colosse are the same words of blessing that my church has for you. Since the day we began our partnership, we have not ceased praying for you. We are praying that God will grant you wisdom and perspective, vision and creativity. The First Baptist Church in Sylva is praying that you bear fruit and that you grow in your faithfulness to our God in heaven. We wish for you God’s strength, God’s patience, God’s joy. And we pray for our partnership together, that we might learn from one another. We pray for our friendship, that we might trust one another. We pray for you, our brothers and sisters in Christ, that we might see God in the faces and expressions of one another.

Our churches will be stronger through our partnership. Our world needs more partnerships, more alliances, more cooperation. And God’s Kingdom in Christ Jesus will lay the foundation for us to be connected, even though we live in a disconnected, fragmented and broken world.

No, I did not become a weather man. But I still love to study the weather. I like to study the radar which shows a picture of the rain that will fall on our mountains. The bountiful rain helps our trees to grow to enormous heights. And it is in our forests that we can find a word of encouragement for our churches. Hidden deep in our mountains is a grove of trees that has never been harvested. Because it has been untouched by loggers, the trees have been able to grow to extraordinary heights. They tower to the heavens, and are so wide that it takes an entire family of five to encircle it. How do these trees remain standing when a storm comes and the winds roar down the mountainsides? The trees stand because the roots of these trees become intertwined with one another. Because they are connected beneath the surface, when one tree begins to bend, the other trees’ roots hold it up and make it stronger.