Cultivating "Sermon Gardens"

PULPIT AND STUDY: Cultivating "Sermon Gardens"

"he commission of the Chief Shepherd to every undershepherd, or pastor, is, 'Feed my sheep.'"

Pastor and Teacher, South Lancaster, Massachusetts

The commission of the Chief Shepherd to every undershepherd, or pastor, is, "Feed my sheep." If the flock of God is to flourish and produce the needed wool, it must be led into "green pastures" and beside the "still waters" and "in the paths of righteousness." This leading and feeding process demands much prayer, study, reading, and sermon preparation on the part of the pastor.

This need is beautifully illustrated by the preparation of the food that sustains the physical body. Our bodies demand a variety of food sufficient to furnish in balanced form the eighteen elements that are absolutely essential to life and growth and health. These requirements may be prepared in an almost endless variety "of forms and appetizing combinations, so that mealtime becomes a delight because with every meal there is something fresh and new.

No Excuse for Dry Sermons

Divine truth is infinite and the supply inexhaustible, and there is no excuse for dry and uninteresting sermons. The following statements are samples of scores to be found in the writings of the Spirit of prophecy:

"I have been shown that in both the Old and New Testament are mines of truth that have scarcely been touched. . . . Precious pearls of truth are to be gathered up, which will require not only laborious effort, but spiritual enlightenment."—Review and Herald, Feb. 4, 1890.

"It is impossible for any human mind to exhaust even one truth or promise of the Bible. One catches the glory from one point of view, another from another point; yet we can discern only gleamings. The full radiance is beyond our vision. As we contemplate the great things of God's word, we look into a fountain that broadens and deepens beneath our gaze. Its breadth and depth pass our knowledge. As we gaze, the vision widens; stretched out before us we behold a boundless, shoreless sea."—Education, p. 171.

"There are many mysteries in the word of God that we do not comprehend, and many of us are con tent to stop our investigation when we have just begun to receive a little knowledge concerning Christ. When there begins to be a little unfolding of the divine purposes to the mind, and we begin to obtain a slight knowledge of the character of God, we become satisfied, and think that we have received about all the light that there is for us in the word of God. But the truth of God is infinite. With painstaking effort, we should work in the mines of truth, discovering the precious jewels that have been hidden. It is the minister's privilege to have a constant supply of fresh truth for the people. He should be in such a position that he can bring from the treasure-house of God not the same thing over and over, but new beauty and new truth. . . . We should not be satisfied to use the set discourses that we have preached over and over for the last ten, fifteen, or twenty years. We should draw fresh, new matter from the store-house of God's word."—Review and Herald, June 4, 1889.

A famous Boston preacher, Phillips Brooks, never ran out of something to preach and wished he had opportunity to preach more often, "because he had formed the habit of let ting sermons grow from seedlings." He constantly cultivated a "sermon garden," where scores and even hundreds of sermons were growing and in various stages of development. When he needed a sermon he went out into his homiletical garden, or orchard, and picked one that was ripe and appropriate for the occasion. This was also the method of Charles Spurgeon, Henry Ward Beecher, and other successful preachers whose sermon resources seemed exhaustless.

A large garden has in it a great variety of vegetables in different stages of growth and maturity, so that something is always ripe and ready for use. But a successful garden demands diligent work in weeding and cultivation. A good gardener is in his garden early in the morning and at various other times, and this is the secret of maintaining a successful homiletical garden. It must be cultivated early and late with a constant weeding-out process. There must be growing sermons and addresses on a great variety of subjects, for a minister may be asked to speak to various clubs and organizations, and to civic and community gatherings, and his reservoir should contain the needed material.

Beecher Kept Them Growing

Beecher declared that he stored away seed thoughts and kept them growing for months and even years, because "the value of a sermon may depend on the number of weeks, months, and even years it has taken to grow." Good sermons, like the most valuable trees and shrubs, mature slowly and have a long history. They cannot germinate, grow, and mature with mushroom rapidity.

After a sermon is preached it should be replanted in the garden for further growth before being preached again, so that it is new and fresh to both speaker and hearer.

A lay friend heard Beecher refer to a sermon he had in mind. After waiting several weeks to hear it preached, he asked the famous preacher what had happened to it. The reply was that it was still ripening in his garden. Months later when it was delivered it sounded almost extemporaneous. Daniel Webster was warmly congratulated at the close of one of his famous speeches in Congress for being able to give it extemporaneously. He replied that it had been twenty years in the making.

Four Hours vs. Twenty Years

On one occasion when Beecher was on vacation he went to a nearby church on Sunday morning and heard a brilliant sermon by a young preacher. At the close he shook hands with the young man and asked him how long it took him to prepare his sermon, and was told that it required three or four hours the day before. "That is astounding," replied the great clergyman, "for it took me twenty years to pre pare it." The young man blushed and said, "You must be Henry Ward Beecher, and I am not going to apologize for using a sermon it took you twenty years to prepare."

Even though a good sermon reaches its final form rather quickly, its message is the result of reading, thinking, and studying over a long period of time. Andrew W. Blackwood, professor of homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary, says: "A living sermon matures slowly, but at length it may ripen quickly. In order to give each message time to develop, according to the spirit of life in its seed, the pas tor should have in his homiletical garden sermons in various stages of growth."—Planning a Year's Pulpit Work, p. 16.

Raymond Calkins wrote:

"A true sermon always has humanity within it and divinity behind it. Good sermons usually have a long history. They mature slowly. They are not made between Sundays. A week is too short a time for an idea to germinate, grow, blossom into full bloom. Hence the preacher is constantly jotting down ideas for sermons as these come to him in his study of the Bible, his reading, his observation. These are labeled and put away for future use. The material is constantly added to from time to time. . . . The preacher will have scores of sermons thus slowly maturing. His question is not what to preach, but only what to preach next. It is said of Henry Ward Beecher that he would stroll out toward the end of the week into his homiletical orchard and survey the fruit, picking at last what seemed all ripe and ready and using it, leaving the rest until it should fully ripen also."—The Romance of the Ministry, pp. 155, 156.

With such a reservoir of sermon material the minister will never go to the homiletical cup board and find it bare, or the well and find it dry. I preached a thousand different sermons in one pastorate without repeating, and still the sermon garden was filled with developing but unused sermons. Of all ministers, Seventh-day Adventists are blessed with the most inexhaustible supply of truth and sermon material, and therefore should be able constantly to invite the people to a spiritual banquet of palatable food that is fresh and new and appetizing, so that they will look forward to preaching services with delightful anticipation.

 

 

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Pastor and Teacher, South Lancaster, Massachusetts

December 1950

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