A tribute to John Powell's highly effective sermon
Photo credit: © Getty / ArtyFree
This week I watched videos of sermons from my former student and long-time friend John Powell in tears. Many of you know that John was killed last week, hit by a truck when he pulled people out of a burning fire and pushed another out of the way of the oncoming 18-wheeler. To hear John's voice again, I went to his church's YouTube page and listened to him preach the psalms.
John was in the Sunday school class that I taught when we were in Louisville, and I had him in all classes (theology, ethics, and sermon) that I taught at the seminar. When I heard him preach this week, I couldn't help being reminded of him as a young student fresh from Missouri standing and preaching in a Norton Hall basement for us, his professors, and fellow students to evaluate.
He was a really good preacher at the time – did an A. I laughed when I thought about the time he texted me – during a sermon by a really lengthy fellow student that we let go well beyond the time we were talking to her would normally have cut off: "How long, oh professor? How long? "But I was impressed when I watched these videos how exponentially better he preached, even though he was good at the time.
Competent, congruent and compassionate
John's sermon was not only strong because he was competent in the craft. He certainly was – careful interpretation of the Bible, good explanation and application to the people. In addition, John found me congruent – the person who spoke on stage was the same as the person we all knew. And the person we all knew was the same – whether a 20-year-old seminary student, later as an admissions officer for that seminar, as a pastor of a rural church in Texas, and now as a church planter in Houston.
And he was the same person – in this pulpit or at our Thanksgiving Day or as an advisor to a person in a crisis – as the night he died on that freeway.
John always seemed to search the room to see who needed to be encouraged or involved. Whether at a seminar preview conference for prospective students or literally every Sunday morning in Sunday school or with a scholarship in our house up to every event of the ERLC Leadership Council – John looked around the room – in order to never "network".
He did not try to find out who was "most important", but who felt uncomfortable, who was alone, who felt new or unfamiliar or who was out of place. These were the people John went to and who he made friends with and involved.
Sincerity and encouragement in the age of cynicism
John carried with him a sincerity that can hardly be found in this cynical age.
I thought about how he was the first to arrive when someone needed help – moving out of his apartment, towing his car, or setting up chairs to study the Bible for homeless men. I think every time he spoke to me he called me "sir". But it wasn't a military sounding "sir" or a formality, and it was more like what he said and communicated encouragement, affirmation, and kindness. I think in one way or another he found a way to do this with everyone.
John loved Jesus. I can't afford to keep that in the past tense because John was killed, but he's not dead.
John lives in the Christ he followed
John loves Jesus. He showed that he loved Katherine and her children, taught the Word of God, and showed everyone the kindness and gentleness of Christ – whether they were fellow believers or not. He showed it by being both a friend and a role model to countless people – all of whom are heartbroken at the moment. John preached Christ and him crucified – and his life coincided with his words – to the end (which of course is no end at all).
The Bible tells us: “There was a man who was sent by God and was called John. He came as a witness to testify about the light so that everyone could believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify about the light ”(John 1: 6-8). John always knew he was John. He was the reflector of light, but not of light. That's why we admired him and love him. He testified of the light that shines in the dark, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1: 5).
Of this other John, Jesus said: "He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were ready to rejoice in his light for a while" (John 5:35. This was also the case for this John. This light has darkened for us But in everything except memory and anticipation, but John the Preacher, like John the Apostle, would tell us that “the darkness is passing and the real light is already shining.” (1 John 2: 8) We know that John is doing this I would like us to know that because he preached it – and because he lived it.
Some people heard this from John from the pulpit. Some of us heard it from him in his sermon classes or when he was in Sunday school. Some heard of him eating at the table. And some saw it somewhere in the middle of the night on a freeway. But we all saw it. We have all heard it. We all knew it. We knew that we were in the presence of a fellow sinner who had been shown mercy and who was willing to show mercy to others who believed in the cross so much that he was ready to do it all the way down on his back carry street.
John, we love you. I am proud of you.
You get an "A" when preaching – not only for the class, but also for life. But that doesn't really count for much of me. What matters is the evaluation not by the scribes, but by the one who preached with authority, authority over even death itself.
We all know what you heard about him when you saw the face that you never saw but always loved: "Well done, good and loyal servant, step into the joy of your rest."
We'll see each other soon, John. We'll have a lot to talk about, but I think I want to start this reunion by pointing to the one who took us where we are going. And I want to tell you: “You preached it well, with your words and your life. Sir, you preached it well. "
A link to the GoFundMe set up to bless John's wife Katherine and their four children: https://www.gofundme.com/f/john-powell-memorial-fund
A link to John's last sermon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4EIz5mhHfQ