I was called to ministry in June, 1974. Preached my first sermon two months later … and I’ve been preaching ever since—an every Sunday preacher since February, 1981. That’s a lot of sermons. And I’ve preached in all kinds of places: campgrounds, small churches, large churches, white churches, black churches, college and seminary chapels, Jamaica, France, Russia, India, the Czech Republic, Africa, Honduras. I’ve even preached in Texas. I’ve preached with translators. And I’ve preached to English-speaking congregations that probably wished I had a translator. We’re talking thousands of sermons, after which many listeners file by to shake my hand. Some smile and nod. Others speak. And oh the things people say. Some offer the obligatory, “I enjoyed that”; “Good word”; “Thanks for the sermon.” But some say more interesting things. In fact, this past Sunday I received the highest compliment I’ve ever received after a sermon. But before I get to that, let, me share some other things I’ve heard:
From some elderly ladies in Branson, Missouri: “Oh, you’re going to be the next Billy Graham.” (I’m pretty sure most every preacher boy hears that when they are just getting started.)
From more than one person in Jamaica: “I walked five miles to get here. Please preach a longer sermon.” (No American ever said that to me.)
From a highly literate man in Missouri: “Want to know how many times you said ‘you know’ in your sermon? I counted them.” (At least he was moved by the content of the message. Not!)
From a lady in Missouri: “It’s about time you said something about the role of women in church.” (I didn’t say anything the role of women in the church. How she heard that I’ll never know.)
From a man in Loseeny, Russia: “So, are you rich?” (He was obviously more interested in the messenger than the message.)
From a lady in Arkansas: “That tie doesn’t really match. You ought to let your wife pick out your clothes.”
From a man in Arkansas: “You were kind of brief today. I like it. And just so you know, nobody ever complains about a bad short sermon.”
From somebody in most every church: “Can you have somebody turn up the heat next Sunday? I nearly froze to death today.”
From another lady in Arkansas: she didn’t speak to me after the sermon but sent me a letter: “That was an appalling use of the Scripture.” And with the letter she sent a book on how to interpret the Bible. It’s a good book.
Oh the things people say! And of course, I’ve also heard comments from people who were engaged, helped, moved, and/or challenged by the sermon. I heard from one of those this past Sunday: best compliment I’ve ever had after a sermon. It came from a man about my age. He came through the line, took my hand, leaned in toward my ear, and whispered so no one else would hear: “I’ve never had my butt so thoroughly chewed and enjoyed it so much. Thanks. I needed that.”
There are two things I want to saturate every sermon I preach: grace and truth. And this man’s response to my sermon told me I hit that mark on Sunday: “I never had my butt so thoroughly chewed” (truth); “and enjoyed it so much” (grace). The truth didn’t beat down, it lifted up. The truth didn’t maim, it healed. The truth didn’t destroy, it gave life. The truth didn’t shackle, it set the listener free. Truth does this when it’s seasoned with grace.
Oh the things people say! It can be funny, off the wall, disconnected, encouraging, and even a little painful now and then. I can’t control the things people say and don’t want to. I can only pray and work to the end that the things I say will be, like Jesus, full of grace and truth.