I‘ve only ever preached one sermon that somebody walked out on. It was the early nineties, I was in my early twenties and fresh out of theological college. I was preaching on the Lord’s Supper from 1 Corinthians 11. As a child I had heard the words of this text read hundreds of times. At each communion service came the solemn reminder, “whoever partakes unworthily east and drinks damnation upon himself”. Filled with dread I would rack my brain for any unconfessed sin. I didn’t want to be in an unworthy state and so bring God’s judgement crashing down.
In my sermon I suggested this was an unfortunate reading of the text, that at Corinth there had been a severe breakdown between rich and poor, with the rich celebrating the Lord’s Supper privately, gorging themselves on food and wine, while the poor members of the congregation were left with nothing. Was it this failure to recognise the body of Christ, that is the church, that was drawing God’s displeasure?
During the sermon one person got up and walked out in disgust. I learned later that this person knew what I was saying must be wrong because he had never heard it before. And so he walked out.
At the conclusion of the service another person approached me to comment on the sermon. Reg was a man held in high esteem in the church, a formidable preacher with enormous gravitas and a bold nature. I wondered, a little anxiously, what it was he would say. It went something like this, “Scotty, I want to thank you for that message. I’ve been preaching that passage for over forty years and tonight you made me realise all that time I’ve not been preaching it right. Thankyou.”
I was flabbergasted. Here was one of the giants of our church admitting he had been corrected by the sermon of an over-zealous youngster and thanking him for it. As Reg walked out the door I remember thinking, “That’s what I want to be like when I’m an old man like Reg.”
That episode has stayed with me ever since, along with Reg’s integrity and his frequent reminder that he prayed for me every day. These things had a profound impact on me and left me with a sense that these are qualities I want to develop in my life.