As was my custom at the conclusion of the morning worship service, I stood at the doors of the sanctuary to shake hands with my parishioners and guests. As always, 12-year-old Torey, along with her mother and two brothers, came to greet me. “Nice sermon, Pastor. But there was something you said that I didn’t understand. What did you mean when you said . . . ?”
Not accustomed to being asked questions like that immediately after preaching and wanting to greet others who were now waiting in the line, I attempted to hastily answer her question. However, in trying to respond to her query, I found myself struggling to explain what I stated in my sermon. Finally, I simplified my earlier assertion, to which she responded, “Now I understand. Why didn’t you just say that?”
Had she punched me in the stomach, her exclamation could not have hurt me more.
What people seek from our preaching
That innocent, well-intended critique, approximately 20 years ago, started an inventory of my preaching that I had not planned to conduct. I thought my sermons were clear and easy to understand; but now I doubted whether they were. As a result, I have learned a host of valuable lessons that I hope benefit those who read this, regardless of their age.
Jesus, as the Answer to one’s personal sin problem. While it remains critical to preach about the brokenness of humanity in general, as well as sin and sinful behavior that reside in each of us in particular, I realize more and more that most of those who hear my sermons already know they are sinners who struggle with issues that would shock others if they knew of those internal battles. Guilt consumes them. They don’t need to be told the diagnosis over and over; they need to know the prescription! They need to hear that Christ loves them (Jer. 31:3), seeks to save them (Luke 19:10), and forgives and cleanses them when they respond to His invitation (1 John 1:9; John 6:37).
Jesus as Deliverer from all strife. On back-to-back days in April 2014, I heard two impactful sermons: one from Paul Ratsara; the other from António Monteiro. Each preached powerful biblical expositions of how Christ carried them through the darkest days of their lives. We each face tribulations of personal and/or corporate dimensions. As gospel ministers, we present God through His Word to our listeners—the God who hears our cries when we grieve and notes our anguish when we are oppressed or otherwise mistreated.
A Word that helps people make sense of life in an imperfect world. I admire Job when I consider how he conducted his affairs in spite of a series of seemingly inexplicable events. Many lessons can be learned from the book that bears his name, and among those lessons is the truth that satanic forces have succeeded in poisoning every element of life and every fiber of society. Although we find our homes, churches, and other Christian institutions to be places of refuge, even these have been tainted.
However, in spite of the pain, sorrow, classism, sexism, and other evidences of the imperfections that surround and afflict us, we preach a message of victory—rooted in the realization that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4, NIV). There is no space in our preaching for a sanitary gospel; that is, one that is free of the germs of our brokenness. Rather, the message of Christ shows us how to live on this infected planet while we wait for the complete fruits of eternal life.
My favorite homiletics professor
Many of you who are reading this editorial could tell stories of homiletic lessons you have learned—some in the classroom; others, in the church. I shall forever be indebted to my undergraduate professor of homiletics, the late Calvin E. Mosely, who taught me much more than preaching. He taught me Jesus. Some of you have either read or studied under Haddon Robinson. His interview, conducted by Derek Morris, shares from a wealth of experience gained over many decades of service.
But my favorite homiletics professor remains that 12-year-old girl. She, through her Spirit-led counsel, taught me how to keep the presentation simple, practical, useful, and understandable. Thank you, Torey.