I used to cry every time I wrote a sermon. It didn’t matter how insignificant the occasion for preaching was. It was enough that I had a passage of Scripture and had to say something about it.
The break down usually happened somewhere between being assigned to preach and starting to write the sermon. I would panic. Suddenly, I could not remember a single thing about preaching: How to start. How to end. What to do in the middle. What made a story poignant. Which jokes to avoid. People’s feelings about narrative sermons, or expository ones, or deductive or inductive. What the heck inductive meant. How to exegete. What the heck exegesis meant.
My mind was like a colander—no, worse than a colander—like a purse with a gaping hole in the bottom. Whatever I had learned had fallen out along the way, and I was standing there, rifling around for something to hang onto.
I felt like I had reverted to kindergarten. I was a kid who had been asked to preach a meaningful, impressive sermon. How could I? I knew nothing! Worse, I couldn’t even recall bits of childhood sermons or life-changing college sermons from which I might draw or model my own. And that realization would send me spiraling into the worry that I was a terrible listener, a bad church member, of the sort who would never make a satisfactory preacher.
I was a kid whose only recourse was to cry. (Task too big? Responsibility too heavy? The tears just come.)
Well, tears work wonders.
Somewhere around sob thirty-eight, Dan (he’s a patient one) would hand me another tissue and ask, “Grace, how is this good news?”
Apparently, Scripture is chock-full of good news. It’s everywhere. I just wasn’t asking the right questions. If you set out to write a sermon with questions about how to organize it and what makes a good story, you’ll never end up in the right place. The sermon might be well organized and the stories might be engaging, but that’s a different thing than good news, than gospel.
Good news is about Jesus.
Good news is about being lifted out of the mire of decay and deceit and death, and being restored to the fullness of life, where the air is broad and sweet.
And if you remember to look for it, that good news is everywhere.
So when I had to preach last week on Exodus 3 and the burning bush, rather than letting myself be overwhelmed by homiletical technique, I set out with that question as my north star. “How is this good news?”
It was almost too easy. God handed it right to me in his words to Moses about the Israelites in Egypt. He says:
“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt.
I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.
Indeed, I know their suffering,
and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians,
to bring them up out of that land
to a good and broad land,
a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8).
If that’s not gospel, I don’t know what is.
I have come down, and I will bring you up.
I have come down to deliver you from the horrors of suicide, the bondage of terror, the discord of war, the bitterness of anger and envy and strife.
And I will bring you up out of that land to a good and broad land,
a land where death will be no more,
where mourning and crying and pain will be no more (Revelation 21),
where swords will be beaten into ploughshares and tanks into tractors (Isaiah 2),
to a land flowing with milk and honey,
where a river runs whose streams make glad the city of God (Psalm 46),
where a tree grows whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22),
to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites,
the Amorites, the Perizzites,
the Hivites, and the Jebusites (Exodus 3),
where the nations will walk by the light of the Lamb,
where the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it (Revelation 21)!
The sermon nearly assembled itself after that. No tears. No tissues.
When I preached it, it was good news, which might be all any of us ever need to hear.