by Mark Jefferson —
Currently, I serve as Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Virginia Theological Seminary. Our theological institution turns 200 in 2023. To celebrate and commemorate the occasion, our Seminary president presented me with the unique challenge to preach 200 sermons by VTs’ bicentennial. I gladly accepted.
Although I was able to preach a few virtual sermons during the year, COVID-19 essentially robbed me of the opportunity to fully use 2020 for preaching. Consequently, attempting to preach 200 sermons in 4 years is not an easy task.
Most days, it’s meant leaving Alexandria after teaching my last class of the week to travel Thursdays and Fridays, stopping by churches to drop off my business card along with information about our institution and my 200 sermons goal. More times than not, those random encounters have led to amazing conversations with people I would have otherwise never met.
And those conversations confirm just how much we’ve missed out on human connection since quarantine.
Achieving this goal of 200 sermons has taken me everywhere from rural churches in the middle of cornfields to detention centers to the National Cathedral. During the academic semesters and pre-COVID, I would often fly to preach to ensure I would be back in time for my weekly classes. Semester and summer breaks have given me a chance to do more of what I love: getting in the car and driving.
One could say travel was placed in me, a family legacy of sorts. My grandmother, a teacher, and my grandfather, a pastor and itinerate preacher, traveled a lot. They taught us that seeing as much of the world around us was the best way to truly appreciate the beauty of creation. And as I journey across the country preaching the gospel, following in the footsteps of my grandfather, I can’t help but agree.
There’s absolutely nothing like watching the sunrise while driving along the Pacific Coast or standing in the midst of the ancient ruins in Belize or traveling through the flatlands of West Texas, all to leave you breathless at the vastness of the world. I’m glad to see things that make me feel small.
Traveling alone also gives me room to reflect on my call and vocation while in the midst of nature. There’s a reason Jesus tells the disciples to “go ye therefore” in “The Great Commission” of Matthew 28. We have to see the world and the people in it.
When arriving in a city, the first thing I do is drive around to experience the culture. Geography tells me a great deal about the people who will be in those pews. And, as someone who raises critical questions about the role of preaching and faith in the public square, being connected to and respecting the land only enriches the preached word as it works to shape new disciples. …
Currently, I’ve preached 97 sermons and only have Alaska and Hawaii left before I’ve been blessed to stand in a pulpit in every state in this country. (Since this story first was published Jefferson has made it to Hawaii).
As the world opens up, I’m excited about more international opportunities. I’m excited about what it will mean for the gospel and the mission of Virginia Theological as we work to form and educate leaders to proclaim that gospel and help others participate in God’s mission globally.
But more than anything, I’m excited to get back in the car and back on the road to see the world. It’s in the context of God’s most beautiful work, the created world, that I’m able to ask questions about what’s possible. It will not only make me a better preacher, scholar and professor, it will make me a better man.
(This story by Mark Jefferson is as told to Candice Marie Benbow. It first appeared in theroot.com)