Suppose you suddenly learn that the President will be in your congregation …

“Perch Danny on the edge of the typewriter!” Years ago I started the practice of imagining my son right there on the edge of the typewriter and talking to him as I wrote my sermon. If I could make the Bible clear to him, if I could bring the message of Christ to him with understanding, conviction, persuasion, explanation, and the power of the Holy Spirit, then I could hope it would come with similar power to others.

To swing the sword of the Spirit as skillfully as possible, preparation of the sermon means to me a schedule: Tuesday—get topic; Thursday—outline; Friday—write; Saturday—make notes for preaching; early Sunday morning—memorize, fill mind and heart with the message.

This schedule presupposes a notebook of sermon ideas kept constantly through the years, previous weeks of thinking on scripturally suggested ideas, and consideration of seasons, variety, needs of people, teaching-coverage of biblical truth.

When I begin my sermon outline, at the top of the first page I write (in addition to topic and text) the purpose for this sermon, stated in one succinct sentence. Unless I can get this purpose stated clearly and simply, I waste endless time in sermon preparation. I have to get it stated and then keep aiming at it, usually with five points. If I use three points, people remember the three points. If I use five points, they tend to remember the main sermon thrust rather than the five points.

After the outlining and writing, and before early Sunday morning, come the “questions.” Christ asked the disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” I have to ask myself: Who does this sermon say Christ is? What are people going to think of the Saviour because of this sermon? Does the sermon give main biblical truth about this subject, or am I off on a tangent? Are the big and important things of the Gospel there, or have I been piddling with the picayune? Does the sermon reflect something of the splendor of God and the exaltation of living in the heavenlies with Christ? Is it dull? Is the main thesis really worth preaching?

Early Sunday morning brings praying and memorizing. I talk the sermon over with the Lord point by point one last time. I try to memorize, not just words, but ideas, and order of truth, and the general material I have used to get this truth to people. If I cannot memorize the ideas, if they are not that valuable and orderly and clear, nobody else will remember them.

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As I deliver the sermon, I must be free to let the Lord use me. I must not be tied to manuscript or notes. It may seem important to some to read their sermons in order to get well-turned phrases and striking metaphors over to the congregation. But Christianity today shows the effect—a beautiful anemia, and a lack of the vigorous vitality of biblical conviction! The sermon must always be the very truth of God come to life through the person of the man of God. It must glow through his thought and understanding, through his spirit of love for God, through the voicing of the message of the sermon. Into the lives of the people must come those blessings God offers—hope, glory, transformation, forgiveness, salvation.

When I begin to deliver the sermon, I may get scared. Maybe those in the congregation do not look lovable. If not, they probably are reflecting me; I may not look lovable either. I must love them first, and awaken in them, if need be, love for God. It helps to start talking to some one person in the congregation who evidently (a glance will tell) has beat me to this loving business. That moment of rapport gives me courage and freedom to face and try to reach every person in the congregation.

In delivering the sermon, I must suit my attitude to the content of the message. I must be interested in it myself. I cannot be like the postman, who, after he has delivered the package at the door, could not care less what happens to it. Interest and attitude both are involved. To give a message of the love of Christ as if I am angry at the people for not loving—this is like a dog’s trying to get the mailman to pet him by barking violently and rushing madly at him. If I am going to preach on sin, it should not be too sweetly preached, as if I did not want to part with my sin or get the people too upset about parting with theirs.

That sermon is important. I must realize that. I must remember the little dark corridor of the apartment where I visited yesterday, and the dim room, and the despairing soul with whom I prayed. The sermon itself may not be great; but the Saviour whom I present is great, and he is going to make a tremendous difference in the life and soul of that person through the sermon. I must think of that, and think of the tragedies and joys of person after person in the congregation as I bring to them this truth from God’s Word.

Often my sermon does not seem big and important the way I want it to be. But the Lord taught me a lesson about “little sermons.” It was a week when my sermon was to be on “national missions.” It should have been big, important. The topic was worthy of that. I prayed, thought, studied, read. It just did not come out the “size” I would have liked. To cap it all, on Saturday night people began phoning to ask whether I knew that President Eisenhower would be in our church the next morning. Me with my weak little sermon! And after all my effort, nothing had changed by sermon time Sunday morning. I committed the message to the Lord and preached it because I knew it was true and I was doing it for his sake.

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That day I was glad it was not my turn to stand at the main door to greet people. Maybe I would not have to face the President. At the little side door a few people came and greeted me, and I them. Suddenly there was the President standing in front of me and shaking hands. He said simply: “We need that.” When he had gone I found in my hand a fifty-dollar bill he had put in it. Then I understood what he had said as he moved away: “Put that to the work!” The sermon still was little. But the President had listened to the bigness of Christ’s truth, not to the smallness of my sermon. It was a big subject, and a big God, and a big Saviour, and a big need among people.

Many of our sermons are likely to belittle, but we can be confident that God wants to get his big saving truth of Christ into the hearts and lives of people. And that changes the size of things!


minister, Corona Presbyterian Church, Denver, Colorado.

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