I’ve been at work on a sermon in which I introduce my 86 year old self to a new congregation. I need your help to prepare this sermon. It seems to me that the sermon must be different from one I might have preached 30, 40 or 5o years ago. I mentioned such a sermon/article to the editor of the Mennonite and he said “write it.” No promise to print it, but he encouraged me.
A preacher must always consider his audience. I fantasize an audience of mostly rural Mennonites. Few of their children stayed in the church because not all of them could be or wanted to be farmers. And not many of them were attracted to the Mennonite Church and so the had gone else where or no where for thejr spiritual identity.
I preached my first official sermon the last Sunday in March, 1950 in Tampa, Florida. My text was I Cor. 2:2, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Unwittingly, I had set the major theme of my preaching for life.
For this sermon I choose other clarifying words of Paul, 2 Corinthians 4:5: For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. Paul and his associates did not seek to impose themselves as authorities over the church at Corinth. The Lord they preached was Christ Jesus. AND they did preach themselves. they preached themselves as servants of the church for Jesus sake. I must be sure to clarify for the congregation the difference between Jesus and me. I am a servant to this congregation and I will prove to be a servant by my preaching and teaching, That is my chief role.
If I remember correctly, the letters to the Corinthians were the most autobiographical of Paul’s letters. I must check that data before I include it in the sermon. I am old, and I have been told that an older person takes time to integrate life and faith until the end. So perhaps unintentionally, I will be autographical in my preaching. In that way I will be your servant.
I should tell you that a preacher should follow the general rule to write first and then edit. I’ve been cautioned by my webmaster that what I post on the website must be brief. But I expect this to be an exception to the rule. A saving fact is that I will likely write only a little each day. I’ve described elements that will likely be used in the introduction. I think I’m about ready to introduce my first point.
I will write each new paragraphs in red and turn it black when it is about a day old. The first point of my sermon must be my understanding of the Bible. I will tell the audience that my fifty some years of preaching have proven that the Bible has been a rich source of material for preaching. I will continue to use the Bible as the major source for every sermon. It is filled with rich narratives, parables, aligories, poetry, prophetic and apocolyptic literature, epistles, and myths. I have taken the Bible seriously throughout my life, and I promise you that the Bible will continue to be at the center of my preaching and teaching in this congregation. I hope to be a model for you, and I tell you now that I will expect you to take the Bible seriously along with me, not as your Lord, but as your servant. I am determined to be a faithful servant.
It is as a faithful servant that I will admonish you to take the Bible seriously, but not too seriously. people of the past who thought the earth was flat, and that the earth was the center of the universe because the Bible said so, took the Bible too seriously. When we take the Bible too seriously we tend to reject the advances in science. Insisting that the bible is inerrent is to take the Bible too seriously. The Bible is not a history book or a science book. With regard to history and science the Bible is just a book and is to be read, studied, and analized as just a book. Nor does it have the final word on ethics or morals. It is just a book.
Because it is just a book I will lead you in its study. When I want to get the totality of its message I read it as fast as I can. When I want to get the particulars of its message I will slow down the reading process. If I want to see something new in a familiar passage of scripture I will write it down and pay special attention to the connecting words like if, and, and but. It was while I gave close attention to the familiar John 3:16 that I saw for the first time that God loved me before he sent Jesus. This brings me to the second main point of my sermon, Jesus.
I must confess right now to a shiver of fear running up my spine. A beginning pastor may quickly lose his position if he is too honest. So I must remind my self to be honest but not too honest. I listened to a commencement address to a class of seminary graduates. The speaker was powerfully and sometimes painfully direct. He reminded the graduates that most congregations don’t like a message that has new truth in it. And now that they are the message bearers they are the one’s that face the challenge of preaching new truth. But I am preaching a fantasy sermon to a fantasy congregation. I believe that the congregation of my fantasy is teachable, so I will be honest, but even then, not too honest. Above all I will be gentle to those who oppose themselves.
I have said that the Bible contains some myths. To be really honest I must introduce that word to my new congregation. Some of them may believe that the Bible is inerrent and its every word must be given its literal meaning. They may have a mindset that requires them to say that if a factual error is discovered in the Bible they would not be able to believe any of it. However, A myth is an ancient story beyond the reach of historical research, yet it conveys a rich mine of truth about God, the universe, and mankind. It is worth studying .
There appear to be myths in both Old Testament and New Testament. Some of the stories relted to Jesus have a myth like quality. That is, they can not be supported by empirical data, but they have within them a quality that invites faith.