I’m a little bit jealous of you all this morning. Opening the Word for the next few weeks is one of my favorite seminary professors, but I must say that seminary was a long time ago. A very long time ago. Dr. Sunukjian came to Dallas Seminary after I’d been through a year or two I think (it was a four-year course of study). He joined the pastoral ministry department and brought a breath of fresh air to the preaching side of things. I had him for at one of my sections of preaching. And then I took his “Persuasion in Preaching” class which he taught at his home. I remember so much from him, but I still don’t shine my shoes as often as I should (like never). His practical advice changed me. And, I still do a baptism as he so carefully taught us.
I searched my files this week for his comments on one of my sermons. We would preach (10 minutes max) in front of a state-of-the-art video camera. We would then watch ourselves as the prof would comment on our preaching from a sound proof room. Hey, the technology of the late 1970s was not what it is today. Oh, how times have changed (I didn’t even have a computer then).
We would also get a written critique of our preaching. It was all very helpful. But very intimidating. But I still remember the one phrase he scribbled on the top of one of my grading sheets. I looked for it in my files (I’m sure it’s still there, somewhere) but time was short this week and I just couldn’t remember the passage I preached on that particular afternoon. But I remember the note he wrote. I don’t have Ken Garland’s memory (this would be the right moment for that), but the gist of what he wrote was: you are an ok preacher, but your people will listen to you because you have a way of delivery that builds trust in you. The first half was more kind than that – but you get the point.
I knew I wasn’t a great preacher. That wasn’t hard to figure out. But, he gave me some hope that maybe someone would want to listen to me preach. Some day. It was clear that it was not that day. We did have to listen to some very “interesting” sermons in those classes, by the way. I wasn’t at the bottom of the pile. But not close to the top either.
But it was those words printed in red across the top of my evaluation that gave me hope. Real hope. They encouraged me. He encouraged me. I have never forgotten those red letters. Perhaps it’s taken me 40 years to live up to that potential he saw, but I am the pastor I am today in large measure because of his teaching ministry back in seminary.
Enjoy these Sundays. And remember, a couple of well-timed words can be cherished for decades. Give some hope. Be an encourager. Sow it broadly. And keep serving Jesus. Next week, from Bombo, Uganda.