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What good is a sermon?

What a dumb thing to do!

The singing stills and 150 brave souls settle themselves as a graying, beyond-middle-aged man makes his way to the pulpit to preach. These souls and this man walk this well-worn routine every Sunday and their neighbors who stayed home think it’s dumb. To be honest, many in the church pews think it’s dumb, too. They wonder at times why they still come.

The preacher wonders if, when their minds wander, they ever realize that he too often has doubts about this preaching thing. He sees in their glazed eyes that some of them are thinking only of getting home to the Super Bowl. Others hungrily think of a soup bowl. Some think this sermon belongs in the toilet bowl. (After an uninspiring sermon, instead of the obligatory “good sermon,” one woman patted the preacher on the back and whispered, “Nice try.”)

But, if the Sunday sermon so often misses the mark, why do we do it? I can only speak for me, but there are a couple of reasons.

The first is that sometimes on an ordinary, day-dreamy Sunday when the dust dancing in the sunlight seems more alive than the sermon, a decision is made, a corner turned, and the life of a person is changed forever. Somehow, beyond my mumbling words someone hears the voice of God. His word reaches across time toward an outstretched human heart shuffling toward him. And the sparks fly. When that happens, I am reminded that God’s word really is still “living and active.”

But I also preach even though sometimes, in fact most times, nothing perceptible happens. Even then, I believe something vital occurs.

Earthquakes change the contours of the earth in startling ways, but erosion may have the greater impact over the long haul. Sermons usually seem more like erosion. Mine may be much like a dripping faucet – annoying and seemingly a waste. But, if God’s message trickles through the faucet, it may gradually erode the baked-on porcelain of our hearts. In the mark it leaves behind, one may find the image of God slowly etched into our souls.

Preaching, and listening to it – a dumb thing to do? Maybe, but “God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb – preaching, of all things! – to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation” (1 Corinthians 1:18, The Message).


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