Uncle Russ

post date: June 3, 2012

With my Uncle Russ last June.
It happened almost 40 yeas ago.

During my third year of seminary, I was invited to preach at a church in Oxford, Mississippi. The church at the time was without a pastor so I was asked to preach at both the morning and evening services. That morning I preached what I regarded as my “best” sermon, a message on the parable of the seed and the sower from Matthew 13. When I was casting around for a sermon text for Sunday night, I decided to preach on Psalm 56 because I had just written an exegetical paper on that psalm for my Hebrew class at Dallas Seminary. 

So that Sunday night I held forth on Psalm 56. Unfortunately I hadn’t yet learned how to translate exegetical work into a sermon that wouldn’t sound like a lecture. If the morning sermon came easy to me, the evening message was heavy plowing. I did the best I could, but in baseball terms, I struck out. At least that’s how I felt about it. 

That night my Aunt Ruby and Uncle Russ came to hear me preach. At the end of the service, several people in the congregation thanked me for my message, but I felt somewhat discouraged in my soul. When Ruby came up, she gave me a hug and said I had done a good job and that my dad would have been proud of me. Uncle Russ grabbed my hand, smiled, and in true Southern fashion said, “You done good.”

It’s a funny thing how certain words at certain moments mean a great deal. My father had died several years earlier, and I was trying to make my way in the world. It felt like a benediction from my own family when Uncle Russ said, “You done good.”

I saw Uncle Russ for the last time at a family reunion in Oxford a year ago. He was over 90 and not in good health. But he was glad to see me, and we chatted for a few minutes. When he died last fall, I remembered what he said to me so long ago.

Again, just three words. But they made a difference to me and gave me confidence when I was just getting started. So I wanted to say a word in honor of Uncle Russ. And I wanted to encourage all of you who are around young people to say a good word when you get a chance. Life is hard enough, especially when you are just starting out. You never know when a few words of encouragement may make a lifetime difference.


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