I will never forget it, the day I preached my first sermon, and everything that led up to it. It all started at a youth usher’s convention the year before. As a youth usher in the SDA church, it was more than just standing at the door and letting people in. It was almost like a whole religion unto itself. Ushers had to go through training, and had yearly conventions where the virtues of serving others in God’s religion were extolled, where we met other ushers from all over the conference, and where we voted for a youth usher board and officers. A while back I had been elected vice-president of the conference’s youth ushers, which was a distinct honor. There were over 600 youth ushers in the conference at that time, and they wanted me. Sure, it may have had something to do with who my dad was, but I chose to believe it was because they believed in me.
So, I came into that usher’s convention pretty excited to be the vice-president — it was in Maryland that year — on a huge bus with the rest of the youth ushers from Philadelphia’s SDA churches. We always came to the conventions together, and had a good time on the bus. Most of us hadn’t seen each other for a whole year, so it was quite raucous, even for Seventh-Day Adventists. I was the highest ranking officer on the bus, but it didn’t matter right then, not to them. But I had to get together my paperwork so I could submit it at the officer’s meeting later. That’s why I didn’t really hear what they were talking about on that bus. However, I found out later at the convention, and it was a doozy.
As the convention was coming to a close, and we had all had a good time, it was time to vote on the speakers for the following year’s festivities. Usually we would have a speaker who was a minister, or at the least, was an adult usher who could give us positive words on the path of being an usher. This speaker would most times share stories from the Bible about serving others, and it would all be very bland, but that year, for some reason, the youth usher board president brought up a new idea, of having a youth usher speak to us. I finally started listening right then, and I could hear the noise from all around the big room full of youth ushers. They seemed to be on board, and indeed when we voted on having one of our peers speak, the vote was unanimous. Then, however, it was time to determine who was going to speak, and that’s when my conference made itself felt. The president asked for nominations and the first name put up was my own. To say I was shocked would have been an understatement. After all, I was the vice-president, but I wasn’t at the very top of the list. So, even as surprised as I was, I put up my hand to nominate the usher board president. Then we voted (and he voted for me, by the way), and it was clear that I was the overwhelming favorite to speak. Ironically, I was speechless.
After the fact, I talked with several of our conference ushers and asked them why they chose me. They said simply that it was the easiest choice to make. I didn’t realize it, but I was good in front of people. While the president was good behind-the-scenes and getting things coordinated, they felt I would be the best choice to actually speak. I was humbled, honestly, that a group of my peers would think so highly of my oratory skills. I vowed then and there not to let them down, and I spent most of that next year working hard on a sermon that would amaze them and make them proud they chose me. So, of course, it was very difficult to come up with what I felt was worthy of them, so difficult that I asked my father to help me, something I told myself I wouldn’t do. Not because I didn’t want his help, but instead because I was worried that I needed his help, that I couldn’t do it on my own. The stress was killing me, though, so I did call him, and he did come over, and he showed me his repertoire of how to create and deliver a sermon for any and every occasion. It was almost like I was taking a class, but at the end of it, I had a ready-made sermon that would do just what I wanted to do.
Then the day came, and I rode on the huge bus just as always — the convention was in Washington D.C. that year — and I was heavily involved in the conversation on the way down, but inside my nerves were scraping against each other. The biggest moment of the year for youth ushers, and I would be on stage delivering the major sermon. We got to the church early, and I was wearing the carpet down with my pacing, my stomach was roiling, and I couldn’t find a bathroom that wasn’t occupied. Then I remembered the bus we came down on had a bathroom in the back, so I went on the bus and made quickly for that little room. Just in time too, but I’ll spare you the details. The problem occurred when I tried to exit the bus bathroom. The door was stuck. I looked at my watch and saw it was almost time for the sermon, and I tried to the door again. Still stuck, so I yanked hard on it. To no avail. So I did the only thing I thought I could. I yelled out the little window, hoping someone would hear me. I yelled and yelled, until eventually I heard footsteps on the bus. The door opened rather easily from the other side, and I saw basically the whole cadre of Allegheny East Conference youth ushers standing outside the bus doors, looking at me. I was so embarrassed.
But you know what? It broke me out of my crazy nervous state like I believe nothing else could, and I gave God a little nod of my head as I walked off that bus, head held high, to deliver my own brand of sermon. Because, you see, I was not my father, and that was okay. And it was amazing.