Long ago, my wife and I were vacationing at a small, rustic resort in northern Wisconsin. The elderly caretakers were the kindest, most generous people imaginable. They invited all the guests to their place for dessert one evening, a gesture that is unprecedented in my experience with such operations.
While we were waiting for other guests to arrive, there happened to be an old photo album on an end table. For a reason I can no longer remember, they invited us to open it. As I was sort of absently flipping through the pages, one photograph caught my eye.
A man in the photo closely resembled my grandfather. Or at least I imagined so. I could not be at all certain because Grandpa had died nearly two decades before I was born and I had seen only a handful of black-and-white photographs of him.
I commented, “The man in this picture looks an awful lot like my grandfather.”
Our host came over, glanced at the picture and said, “That’s Rev. A. B. Anderson.”
I was stunned. “What a coincidence! That IS my grandfather.”
The surprise on my face was nothing compared to the expression of shock that stared back at me. Hearing this exchange, our hostess ran out of the kitchen, squealing with delight.
“You’re A.B. Anderson’s grandson! Oh, when that man preached it was like hearing angels calling from heaven!”
It was only dessert they were serving but, to the bewilderment of the other guests who were at the resort mostly as an excuse to drink to excess, they offered the most beautiful table grace before we ate.
All through the meal, our hostess kept staring at me and shaking her head, repeating, “I can’t believe I’m eating with A.B. Anderson’s grandson!”
It was kind of fun being a celebrity by proximity for an evening. But the lasting reflection on that evening was of the impact a preacher can make on a life. By this time, Grandpa had been gone from this earth for nearly 40 years. His own grandson knew very little about him and could have told you nothing about anything he had ever said as a pastor.
Yet what he had said from that pulpit lived on in a beautiful way in the lives of a wonderfully faithful couple.
I remember the incident with our resort hosts frequently, especially when I start to question the efficacy of the proclaimed word. I also remember sermons that I have heard that continue to stay with me today. They inhabit my thoughts and shape my ideas and actions.
There are insights, stories, and words of wisdom and comfort that I heard many decades ago, not only from those considered the finest preachers of our time but also from pastors who have no great reputation as a preacher, that continue to impact me to this day. I can quote them and they shape the way I think. I even remember and continue to quote a sentence from a commencement address from a person I considered a poor speaker and lackluster leader at best.
The point is that proclamation is a wonderful privilege, never to be taken for granted. We wield that privilege as compassionately and wisely and eloquently as we can because one never knows the impact our words can have on those who listen.
Who knows when something that the Spirit has put into hearts to say will find its way into the heart of a fellow human? Who knows when something we say in the service of Jesus will live on in the grace-filled, generous behavior of someone many years after we have left the earth?
It’s not something to be obsessed with. Nor do we spend our time wisely when we aim for a legacy in our preaching. But we faithfully proclaim, confident that God can use our words for good, not just for today but into the unknown future.