Only One Sermon??
Only One Sermon???
About a month before I moved to Decatur to begin serving as senior minister at Central Christian, I attended a clergy leadership seminar in Louisville. One of the speakers, a long-time congregational pastor, shared this thought. “It has been said,” he noted, “that all preachers preach only three sermons. That is, each sermon is some version or variety of the same three.” As he spoke, I found myself replaying the hundreds of sermons I had preached in my career and nodding my head. Yes, I admitted to myself. I suppose that is true. The scriptures on which the sermons were based, the illustrations I used and the details of each Sunday’s context were certainly different from week to week. But if I’m honest, I probably do preach some version of the same few sermons over and over again.
The keynote speaker pushed on. “So it happened,” he continued, “that I shared this thought with the congregation I was serving at the time. After I said this, one of the elders raised his hand. ‘So…’ he asked, ‘you’re saying you have 2 more???’” I loved that story then, and I do now. Though this was clearly meant as a good-willed jab at the preacher, there is a deeper idea to be examined; the thought that the congregation keeps hearing the same thing week after week.
With this thought in mind, I find myself reflecting on this during our current context – day ??? of being quarantined by the Coronavirus pandemic. As we turn on the news, read our social media feed, talk with friends by phones, skype, face time or zoom, we may find ourselves asking, “What is there to say that hasn’t been said? What hopeful or thought-provoking statement can be said that hasn’t been offered already? Aren’t we saying and hearing the same things over and over again?”
But I wonder if that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When Jesus said the greatest commandment from God was “to love God and love neighbor” (Matthew 22:34-40) he also said, “On this, hangs all the Law and all the Prophets.” Everything else depends on understanding this fact. If we fail to grasp the importance of this simple truth, nothing else in scripture will make sense. It is as though Jesus is telling us that the entire bible can be reduced to a single dictum – love God and love neighbor – and the rest of the 65 books, 27 chapters and 33 verses in the entire scripture is just details.
In our current situation, when we find ourselves looking for something new to say, or longing for something new to hear, which will help make sense of our very uncertain situation, it is perhaps the simplest explanation that is the best (a la Occam’s razor). Love God. Don’t give up on God just because the earthly circumstances in which we find ourselves are confusing at best and painful at worst. And Love neighbor. Be kind to those around you. Treat with grace those closest to you. It is a simple message for sure. But it never gets old and it always bears repeating.