Monday, August 8, 2011

My One Sermon



I need your help—especially if you’re familiar with my preaching. Last week a pastor-friend and I engaged in an email dialogue around an article on preaching my friend had read and forwarded to me. Growing out of our dialogue was a discussion over something I had read in Eugene Peterson’s book, Pastor: A Memoir. Peterson wrote that his minister-son once told him, "Dad, you only have one sermon." For the longest time that troubled Peterson. He thought about his hours of preparation, the variety of biblical texts he employed, his openness to the text and the Spirit, his applications to the local congregation. In Peterson’s judgment, it sure seemed like he had a lot more than one sermon in his almost three-decade repertoire. But some years later, it struck him what his son meant—essentially this: most preachers who preach their own sermons have one dominating theme no matter the text. It might be grace or the cross or judgment or moral codes or something else, but there's something inside us pastors, created by life-experience and our relationship with Christ and the Bible, that seems to find its way in content or tone or spirit into our sermon pretty much every time we preach. I think I buy that.

And it got me to thinking about what my “one sermon” might be. My one sermon is probably, “Give more money!” With all the building campaigns I’ve endured in thirty years of pastoring, it sometimes feels like it. But, no, that's not it. It's something else. As I was pondering this “one sermon” thing, a past conversation came to mind. In one of my last Sundays at First Baptist Church of Greenwood, Missouri, a church I served for more than thirteen years, one of the leaders of our congregation approached me after the service. “I’m really going to miss your preaching,” he said. “I’ve been listening to you preach for years, and no matter what your text or topic, no matter whether you challenge us or comfort us, you always leave us with hope.” Someone listening in to the conversation was quick to agree: “Yes, you always leave us with hope.” I think he meant that before I put the amen on my sermon, I try to leave people with hope in Christ, hope that God is bigger and better than we know, hope that God loves us and God is for us and God is with us, hope that God isn’t finished with us yet, hope that past sins and failures don’t define our lives forever, hope for a new beginning and a fresh start, and even the hope of heaven when we take that last breath on earth. The more I reflect on my preaching, I think he’s right. And I’m okay with that. Although, I still hope people give more money.

So, here’s where I need your help: if you’re familiar with my preaching, what do you think is my one sermon? Did the guy in Greenwood get it right, or do you hear some other more prominent theme underneath my preaching? I’ve never used my blog to get evaluation, but what the heck. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days. I’m interested in your thoughts. You can make your comments either in the “comment section” on the blog site or on the Facebook link. Fire away, my friends, and thanks in advance for your investment in my ministry. Who knows? Your feedback might even make me a better preacher. And pretty much everybody who’s heard me preach would agree that that would be a good thing.

5 comments:

  1. I've attended several churches and heard several pastors preach. I do believe you top the list as most favored. Somehow you manage to bring laughter, tears, knowledge, biblical tidbits, truth, current events, guidance, faith, hope and LOVE... All into one serman message. Overall though, I believe Love is your "one message". Through the entire sermon you demonstrate God's personal LOVE for each person listening to you speak.

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  2. I do agree with the others about you being at the top as most favored. The word shepherd comes to mind when I think about your sermons. You are always guiding in which ever direction the main shepherd leads you. I am thankful for the guiding.

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  3. John, I have always been blessed by your preaching. I might add the word, "encouragement" or "exhortation" as your one sermon theme. Your messages often impact me like a coach's pregame speech or an inspiring halftime pep talk. I am always encouraged to get back in the game, to give it my all, and not to give in or give up.

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  4. I hear GRACE in a lot of your messages, as well as LOVE and ENCOURAGEMENT. However, I agree that HOPE encompasses them all.

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  5. Most of the words I think of to describe your sermons are rooted in the Latin "somnus". But "hope" is a good 2nd! Maybe Hopeius Somnus.

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