A small-town newspaper regularly featured the sermon of a local minister. In preparing one of the weekly editions the typesetter mistakenly inserted an “l” for the letter “h” in the word “charity.” The text therefore read, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not clarity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). This error suggested to my mind a deeper truth: without charity (or love as the word may also be translated) there is no clarity in the message we seek to convey to a needy world.
Augustine once said, “A wooden key is not so beautiful as a golden one, but if it can open the door, when the golden one cannot, it is far more useful.” Luther added, “No one can be a good preacher to the people who is not willing to preach in a manner that seems childish and coarse to some.” John Wesley wrote all his sermons in full, and read them to the maid. All the words she couldn’t understand he eliminated.
An eleven-year-old girl had heard adults around her talk much of the brilliant new minister. After hearing him preach a wonderfully clear sermon for the first time, she said, “Daddy, that preacher is not so smart, I understood every word he said.” That preacher was not only brilliant but also wise, for he had followed the example of Jesus — he had preached in a language that all could understand; he had preached with power.
In all our preaching let us be simple, plain, much to the point, and deeply in earnest. “Some preachers have the instinct of aviators — they announce a text, taxi for a short distance, then take-off from the earth and disappear in the cloud. After that only the din of exploding gas is heard, signifying that they are flying high, very high above the heads of their hearers. It could be said of them in the language of an ancient event, ‘While their hearers beheld, they were taken up; and a cloud received them out of their sight.’ The miracle of the Ascension is still manifested in some of our pulpits. A sermon, rightly, is not a meteor but a sun. Its test is: can it make something grow?”
It was a striking observation which James Denney made with reference to this when he said, “Don’t preach above people’s heads; the man who shoots above the target does not prove thereby that he has superior ammunition. He just proves that he can’t shoot.”
Today, some religious leaders seem to look down on simplicity. They appear to believe that a sermon should be a profound utterance upon some sociological or even political question. Such ministers apparently conceive of themselves as a kind of assistant to Congress — get a bill through, and the world is in good shape — that is the notion. Other ministers, who have gotten a little beyond sociology, now regard themselves as theologians and are preaching deeply the mysteries of the universe. But where does all this leave the poor souls who sit in the congregation?
When Karl Barth, the famous theologian, visited the United States, he was questioned by a group of young theological students. One student asked Barth to put in capsule form his definition of the Christian faith. The student expected a long statement filled with theological terms with which he could disagree and engage Barth in further intellectual discussion. The Swiss theologian was quiet for a few moments as he reflected on his definition of the Christian faith. Then he said, “I learned it at my mother’s knee. Yes, if I had to sum up Christianity, I think it would be what my mother taught me.” Then he added, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The student had no more questions.
Surely Jesus would shock any number of modern congregations. What an uproar He might cause in some seminaries! He wasn’t a conventional pulpiteer: His style would shake some people today to their toes. Probably His first message in some pulpits would be His last.
Yet He would get today what He got in His day: response. People did not sleep when He spoke. Some of His listeners voted for His execution; others went out and died for Him — but indifference did not characterize His congregations.
Mainly Jesus’ speaking put God in human focus. He made God awesomely real. He awakened people to their immense lostness apart from God, whether or not they acted on that wakening. He made those who had ears to hear want God until they abandoned all for Him.
Should we, in our time, shy away from Jesus’ simplistic technique rather than standing in awe at the force of it?
In a courtroom a judge — after listening to the arguments in a divorce suit — said to the defendant, “I’ve decided to give your wife $40 a month alimony.” The husband’s face brightened as he replied, “That’s nice of you, judge; I’ll try to slip her a couple of bucks now and then myself!” We must be certain that we are clear!
When it comes to preaching the Word of God, lack of clarity may lead to disastrous results. Let’s emphasize in our message that man is born a sinner, destined for Hell, but that Jesus died and rose to save him. Salvation, therefore, is free to all who will receive Christ by faith.
My appeal is for simple, easy communication, not for superficial study or shallow preaching. Dig deep, but don’t come up dry. Use your professional tools in the study, but take the inspired Word into the pulpit. With God’s help, make your sermons profoundly simple and simply profound. As an unknown church member once wrote:
My pastor shapes his sermons
From “A” to final “Z”
In clear and forthright language,
And aims them straight at me!

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