Spoiling a Good Sermon

Thoughts on how to avoid spoiling a good sermon.

Retired MInister, Riverside, California

M Y MOTHER never urged her children to eat leftovers. She said, "I would rather have them spoil out of your stomachs than in them." When you feel that you have had enough food, more—no matter how good—would spoil and also retard the digestion of what you relished when your stomach was ready to re­ceive a well-proportioned quantity of appetiz­ing food.

The same is true of a good spicy sermon that is rounded out in a thirty-five-minute lively discourse, and closed with an ending that every­one understands is the conclusion. There is nothing more to be added. More, even of the same quality, would divert the minds of the hearers from the matter already presented, and would necessarily have to be crowded out or be buried beneath confusion.

On this subject Ellen G. White wrote long ago: "One half the matter presented would be of more benefit to the hearer than the large mass poured forth by the speaker. . . . There is a burying up of the matter that has been pre­sented. . . . Our ministers were making mistakes in talking so long as to wear away the first forcible impression made upon the hearers. So large a mass of matter is presented which they can not possibly retain and digest, that all seems confused."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 256.

There is danger of presenting too much new light at one time. "If new truths were presented in so large a measure that they could not com­prehend them, some would go away and never come back."—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 57. "Speak short, and you will create an interest to hear again and again."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 258. "Preach the truth in its simplicity, but let your discourses be short."—Ibid., p. 310.

We see that Mrs. White made special appeals for short, comprehensive discourses. A statement taken from Testimonies to Ministers, page 311, emphasizes those already given, mentioning es­pecially the thought not to drown out what has already been presented: "Speak short. Your discourses are generally double the length they should be. It is possible to handle a good thing in such a manner that it loses its flavor. When a discourse is too long, the last part of the preaching detracts from the force and interest of that which has preceded it." Why not give the hearers what they can use and enjoy, rather than so much that they become confused and forget what truth an illustration was to magnify?

My mother used to say also, "When it tastes the best, that is the time to stop, because you will want more of the same kind next time." Speakers who close when the interest is high and let it be known that there is more of the same quality to come, have larger and still larger audiences as time goes on.

It is a real art to build up interest in a certain subject, but interest can easily be de­stroyed by the speaker's giving overdoses, whereas if truth is presented in limited quanti­ties at the right time, further interest will be created and at the same time the hearers of the truths will be convinced. Note again how to do that: "Speak short, and you will create an in­terest to hear again and again."—Ibid., p. 258.

To create an interest is the first objective in any sermon. This may be accomplished by an appropriate story illustrating the theme to be developed, or by calling attention to what the hearers are longing for.

Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount by telling the people who is eligible for the king­dom of heaven. The children of Israel had been oppressed for centuries, and they looked for a king to deliver them. They mourned on the walls of Jerusalem; so He briefly told them that they would be comforted. They were looking forward to inheriting the earth. He told them in a few words who would have that privilege. His statements were short and to the point, but their hearts were touched because they learned how their longings could be real­ized.

Then we have Christ's many parables, which were short stories introducing the subject of the theme He was to present. They have awakened interest in the gospel truths since that time. Truly we can say that Christ's method in pro­claiming the Word can be followed today with the greatest amount of success.

Our hearts go out especially to the lambs of the flock, and also to the parents who find it difficult to keep the children quiet when both hands of the clock point upward, when stomachs are empty, and brains are overcharged.


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Retired MInister, Riverside, California

September 1960

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