Earlier this year the automaker recalled my 12-year-old pickup truck. There was concern, the recall notice said, about possible rusting at a critical point in the vehicle's frame. About the same time, I heard a rumor that, if the rusting was bad enough, I'd be given a generous discount on the purchase of a new vehicle. My imagination lit up. On inspection day at the auto dealership, I hoped for lots of rust.
But when my truck was inspected, alas, no rust was found … on the frame anyway. This meant that my pickup is likely to remain with me for another 12 years.
When I told a friend about my experience, he commiserated and then asked if I had ever preached a sermon that needed to be recalled. He thought his idea was kind of funny, and I chuckled with him.
But later, I reflected on his idea more seriously. What might a sermon-recall sound like? I wondered.
"Dear Church. There were critical flaws in last Sunday's sermon. Please delete it from your memory. The sermon will be repaired this week and re-preached this coming Sunday."
This led to asking myself if I'd ever preached sermons that should've been recalled. And the answer was, sadly, yes. How many? Only heaven knows.
I've enjoyed telling the story of the preacher whose sermon cried for recall in every way. When he realized that he'd lost the congregation, he said, most piously, "There's more to be said on this subject, but Jesus is leading me to wait until another time." The congregation stood and sang, "What a friend we have in Jesus."
I think the first sermon of mine that deserved a recall was on the biblical view of sex. I preached it at age 24, which hints at the possibility of a lack of wisdom and experience. A few minutes into the sermon I already knew I was "dying"—from lack of content, depth, and delivery. When I finally put the sermon out of its misery, I turned to the worship leader and whispered, "You end things." He nodded, and I exited the sanctuary, slipped through a side door, and sprinted to our home a block away. There I laid down on the couch, put a pillow over my head, and tried to pretend that the day had never happened.
A year or two after that disaster, I preached another recallable sermon, this time about parenting children. I was not yet myself a father, but I self-righteously pounded those who were inadequate mothers and fathers. I simply bombed. On Monday morning a father of four who had been present stormed into my office and said, "You need to go into the Army; they'd make a man out of you." Our dialogue went downhill from there.
Then there were occasional sermons where I tried to parse complicated doctrinal issues, sermons where I offered overly-simple pronouncements on sticky moral and ethical matters, and sermons where I passionately tried and failed to trigger revival in America in 29 minutes.
I'm guessing (wildly so) that over the last 45 years, I have preached 3,500 sermons. How many of them qualified for recall, I do not know, but those that did probably fit some of these categories.
• Sermons where I did all the intellectual homework but neglected the necessary spiritual preparation. In other words I brought my mind into the pulpit but left my soul at home. Or, to put it another way, I failed to first run the sermon through my own soul to see what I had to learn, where I needed to repent, how I could change. If the sermon didn't fit me, how could I be sure that it could fit anyone else?