The editor rightfully demanded a total rewrite, instructing me to tell a story, not just give readers quotations and factoids. Some preachers make similar mistakes, presenting a string of remarks from theologians or literary lights. But a sermon that could be in a lecture hall would be better given there, not in a sanctuary.
Preachers have an honorably tough job because they need to hold the attention of people at all different levels. And yet, if stories are merely attempts to hold attention, preachers are not following Jesus in telling stories that wake us from the slumber in our souls. His parables showed how God is in charge. A mustard seed that could be eaten by birds becomes a tree in which birds take shelter. Astounding. God works His way quietly, sometimes when we're not even noticing, like leaven. God redeems. God revives. God rescues. God restores.
Happy-talk stories are satisfying at times, but I don't believe they belong in sermons. The seamless stories that belong in a sermon—I'll give some more letter-R alliteration—are those that emphasize repentance, reformation, and resolution. Stories of those who welcome the wounds of prophetic preaching because they are so needy. Stories of those who finally grasp the need for godly change. Stories of people so transformed by Jesus that they walk fearlessly up to the doors of enemies.
So a sermon is more than information: Information does not save. Iceberg parables connect to the whole man, not just the head. Sermons need to pierce. Preachers are God's servants in cutting open chests so that He can perform a heart transplant. To assist in such an operation is the highest honor there is.
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