What makes a sermon memorable? Is it the oration? Is it clever hooks? Is it constant repetition? I’ve listened to thousands of sermons and delivered hundreds and I remember very few. So here is a short reflection on the first sermon I can remember.
I was young… somewhere between the age of 7 and 9. My pastor, Paul Calmes [CAL-mEEs], was preaching about Samson. He always smelled like candy. There was a great boxing match on TV that everyone was excited about and I thought Samson would make a pretty good boxer. I drew a picture of a boxer. Then I drew a picture of Samson. They were not very good pictures. I remember my dad taking furious notes on his yellow pad. Then nudging me and motioning for me to pay attention. I showed him my picture. He smiled and nudged me again motioning for me to pay attention.
Pastor Paul was explaining that Samson was a pitiful man who was fiercely strong but horribly sinful. He explained that God uses sinful people and redeems the sinful and broken of this world for His work in the Kingdom. Samson’s sinfulness did not outweigh God’s goodness. That’s what I remember. Samson’s sinfulness did not outweigh God’s goodness. Pastor Paul was not a great orator. He did not have particularly stirring sermons. I can’t remember a power point, drama, or gimmick ever used, though I’m sure he occasionally employed some sort of preacher’s aid. I don’t remember every sermon, but I remember the one about Samson. I remember because of that particular truth: Samson’s sinfulness did not outweigh God’s goodness. Our sinfulness does not outweigh God’s goodness.
This truth was lived out in Pastor Paul. That’s why I remember the sermon. He showed us that wickedness could always be forgiven. Christ’s love changes everything. Pastor Paul and my dad used to talk about this often. We were constantly engaged with conversation on the reality that the sinfulness of man cannot outweigh the love of Christ. I remember that sermon because it was Jesus. It was Jesus played out in the words of a man who loved him. If you long for sermons to make an impact, they must be lived… not simply spoken.
When we preach, it must be with the power of Jesus lived out in our life. Your sermons have no power if they are not lived out and expressed outside the pulpit. Sermons about evangelism and outreach by a man who fails to do both mean nothing and will have no effect. However, a sermon that is supported by a life of obedience is powerful, transformative, and life changing. A sermon that is illustrated by the life and passion of the preacher can leave a lasting impact on the hearers.
My father-in-law says, “I don’t remember a single sermon I’ve heard, but I remember the passion and life of the men who taught me.” This is what will change your congregation. They must see your life and passions living out in the sermon. So here are three things I am trying to do better as a pastor.
- Tell my people when I fail at something. Throughout my limited time as a teacher of the Bible (roughly once a week for 19 years), I have learned that people will thrive and engage more when they see my faults. Don’t wear a cape and stop trying to be super-pastor. No one likes super-pastor. Don’t be that guy. Instead be authentic and honest.
- Live what I preach! If I preach on transparancy in comunity, I must be ready to be transparent. If I preach about reaching out to our neighbors, I need to reach out to my neighbors. My people will see this and begin to live it out themselves.
- Live with more passion than I speak. What good is it if I speak with passion but live a lifestyle void of passion? My life must be surrendered to the Gospel I preach.
In this way I will follow the example set by Paul Calmes.