“I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling”
1 Corinthians 2:3
With a severe lack of confidence, fear of both small and large groups, a social anxiety that made it necessary to sit in silence for two hours before ever day of school and worst, a fear of public speaking that wreaked havoc on both my dreams and bowels it was with very real fear and trembling I entered Vanguard College nine years ago. When I speak about the experience I trust I am forgiven when I break the cardinal rule of proper communication and avoid making eye contact with whom I speak. I am unable to do so, or unwilling to do so, because that would require a level of vulnerability I don’t think humanly possible because when I do speak about the experience I speak about a teacher who through informal early morning breakfast, afternoon lunches, impromptu meetings in his office with Dr. Kenneth Taylor and the Great Crowd of Hebrews 12 looking on from a plaque on the wall and through four years of formal classes, helped lessen the anxiety, helped build in me the confidence to stand in front of both large and small groups and helped me, for the first time, to look people in the eyes. I believe if someone caught a glimpse of my eyes while remembering they would see a child or as our mutual friend Frederick Buechner would say “a man reduced to being a child” out of sheer gratitude for everything Dr. Gordon Franklin has done in my life.
Nine years ago with fear and trembling I first sat in one of Dr. Franklin's classes. Nine years ago I first received an assignments back from that class the first A+ I had ever received in school and an assignment I look back on often. I look back on the assignment not because of the content I produced because to do so would expose the Dr.’s generous marking nor do I look at the grade instead I have focused in on the paragraph of handwritten notes from the Dr. that accompanied the grade and after nine years of looking over it it is safe to say; “I will never understand what he wrote.” Unfortunately for me and the hundreds of students who craved every correction and stood on every note of praise from him his handwriting is, at times, simply incomprehensible. In honor of his incomprehensible notes I debated writing this piece in a similar dialect and then he would have to spend the next nine years agonizing over it. Nine years turning to his wife; “What did he mean? What was he trying to communicate? There is something in here I just don’t know what it is.” The quick witted Dr. Franklin has chastised me enough over the years so I suspect his response would be something along the lines of; “Justin how would that be any different then how you normally communicate?”
Nine years ago saddle with fear and trembling and a sense to the call of preaching I entered a Dr. Franklin preaching class. Fear and trembling over the idea that public speaking, public preaching no less, would be required. Fear and trembling over the questions; “Will I be good enough? Will my appearance be good enough? Will my limited vocabulary and writing skills be enough? Will my poor annunciation be overcome? Will my intellect be good enough? Will my voice be good enough?” And most troubling of all; “Will it all be worth it?”
I came into Vanguard College and a friendship with Dr. Franklin with fear and trembling and naively thought that the fear and trembling would go away. It did not. Dr. Franklin would not stand for that. Dr. Franklin, whose love of the Scriptures and preaching is a sight unto its own, would not allow it. He did not help the fear and trembling to go away. He helped the focus of that fear to change. Because of Dr. Franklin I, and countless other preachers throughout the past 35 years, left Vanguard College equipped as a preacher with fear and trembling not so much over details of techniques, methods, styles (although he did supply a great tool box) but left with the fear and trembling that I could preach with wise and persuasive words but if so would rob the Word of its subversive power. Made it so that I left with the fear and trembling that I could rely on my own wisdom and ultimately forfeit the Wisdom that our world so desperately needs. Left with the fear and trembling that a good sermon could very well be preached without prayer and yet subsequently I would miss out on an opportunity to be involved in something much more profound. I was able to leave Vanguard College in the fear and trembling in line of the Apostle Paul’s. A figure who coincidentally or not has become so blurred with Dr. Franklin in many of his former students minds that it is difficult to differentiate between the two men.
Dr. Franklin instilled in me the belief that no matter where I found myself; ship wrecked, beaten, humiliated (in other words, found myself serving as a youth pastor), behind bars or in the lap of relative luxury, in a rural or urban setting, if I found myself serving a dying or thriving church that if I preached the Word of God, as best as I could, that come the end I would not regret accepting the call to preach.
Recently I was called upon to give a tribute to Dr. Franklin on behalf of the his classes between 2000- 2011, but I stole a line from James Joyce and asked if I could “avoid those big words that embarrass us all” and did not to try to reduce ten years of service into a two minute sound byte but like a child who has been given such an unexpected gift where words seem ready to fail as a response I simply said what I believed everyone in the years between 2000 and 2011 would have liked to have had said.
“It may be that Dr. Taylor and the Great Cloud of Witness encouraged you one for the past 35 years by reminding you 'that they were watching' but it is this group and countless others who have looked on you for these past 10 years and many more to come and are saying;
We thank you.
We love you.
We and our congregations are the richer for knowing you”