My best sermon illustrations come to me on the Sunday afternoon or Monday morning AFTER I’ve preached the sermon to which they would have been wonderfully attached. Last Monday morning, after preaching on heaven from John 14:1-7, I was reading Tim Keller’s King’s Cross. One of the points in my sermon was that it is not seeing old friends or loved ones which will give heaven its greatest joy, though I cannot deny that hope. That which will give heaven it’s greatest joy is that we will see Jesus.
Keller makes a similar point and draws our attention to Joni Erickson, a quadriplegic. Joni as we would imagine does anticipate the freedom to run and jump which will be for her one of the joys of heaven. What we do NOT think about is that as a quadriplegic one of her desires, denied in this life, is to kneel. She is unable to join others in that posture of submission in worship. And so she says, quoted here by Keller,
Sitting there, I was reminded that in heaven I will be free to jump up, dance, kick, and do aerobics. And….sometime before the guests are called to the banquet table at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the first thing I plan to do on resurrected legs is to drop on grateful, glorified knees. I will quietly kneel at the feet of Jesus. (page 223)
I would have used that in a heartbeat! But I came upon it too late. So it goes.
On other occasions, I have material that I just cannot fit into a message. John 14:8-14, which I preached on this past Sunday, raises the subject of prayer. Jesus tells his disciples that he will do whatever they ask him to do in his name. Normally, we intellectual Presbyterian types want to make sure we adequately qualify Jesus’ statement here. To others, qualifications be damned, this gives license to name and claim one’s blessing.
My point was that Jesus’ intent is not captured by either camp, but rather by the one who sees God as a heavenly father whom we approach as children. And children never hesitate to ask their father for anything and everything.
The message was an encouragement then to pray, which as well is this book, Prayer by George A. Buttrick. (A book which is the only useable one from my grandfather’s library to have filtered its way down to me. The Reverend Rudolph Leslie Budd was a Methodist Minister who died when I was four, a few years before I determined to become a minister myself.) Buttrick is very quotable. In his introduction, he says this:
“Our world, as I write, is under grievous threats which are symptoms of worse threats. There is the threat of armed aggression. But that itself is a sign of disease—the multitudinous unrest of poverty-stricken masses….
“Even that unrest is symptomatic: the sign of spiritual debility. Our obsessed exploitation of the planet’s resources, our scramble for gain, and latterly our scientific skepticism have left us blind toward God.”
We should find those comments very contemporary. Curiously, they were penned on August 25, 1941, three months before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
He goes on to say that we may address certain of these problems, but all such efforts would be in vain without a ‘revival of faith’.
“That revival is the deepest need. It will not come by tongue-lashings from politicians or preachers, nor by organizations, nor by new additions to our embarrassing store of facts. All of these are little pipings in the dark.
“Revival of faith can never come from us. It must come from God, in and through us. It must come by prayer….
“Those who pray are the real light-bearers in any age. Perhaps by these pages some may be added to their bright company.”
(pages 9, 10)
Apparently there were tongue lashing politicians and preachers then, too.
Lost illustrations and edited material are not my greatest regrets. Of far greater concern are the times on a Monday in replaying a sermon in my mind I realize ways in which I might have miscommunicated.
The application of the message Sunday was to pray – to just pray and ask God for stuff. God will change our desires over time, for sure, but we should just be those who love to ask and ask and ask, knowing that even in our asking, in our dependence, he is glorified.
As appropriate as that was, and as much as I needed to hear that, my fear is that people who already feel their inadequacy in prayer would have walked away feeling no comfort or encouragement but only guilt. I fear that I might not have adequately spoken comfort to them. But it is too late now. One can’t go back. (Unless he has a blog…)
Some people joke about having preacher for Sunday lunch. I understand. I have preacher for lunch and supper on Sunday and every meal thereafter well into the following week.