My favorite preacher is my father, Charles McDonald, whom I loved, although my favorite sermons were two of James Forbes’. The first was a sermon that touched me as a young man, full of doubts and questions. Wanting to be left alone I snuck into the normally unused balcony because I had heard he was a good preacher.
Though I didn’t expect to be inspired, when he left his text and began to speak from his heart, he built on the image of “I don’t care.” “I don’t care if you have…” doubts, bitterness, fears, wounds. He didn’t say there was a place in the church for a man like me, but I knew that there was at least one man, James, who accepted me just as I was. That stuck with me.
Thirty years later I heard him preach at Calvary’s Lenten series on why God chose Memphis as the place where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would preach his last sermon. He said it was because this is the place where the Civil Rights movement could be transformed from political action to spiritual action, for this was/is a town full of spirit. He didn’t say that we had to be good, but it helped me accept and embrace who we are: an earthy, dissent-filled, wounded, and joyful city of seekers and scoundrels. We have to be humble, and that is good.