No mail is delivered on Sunday. We don’t expect it and can manage without it. There is a delivery we do expect on Sunday though, and it is one which we all need. It is a message from God to His people. The non-delivery of that message is a very serious matter.
We who are privileged to preach are the trusted agents of God authorized, empowered and entrusted by Him to deliver His message to His people. The failure to do so is a grave breach of trust.
It might be profitable to pursue the analogy of mail-delivery a little further. When we write letters, we have in mind each person who is to receive it. We know where each person lives. We have something to share with them and we have an expectation that they will be interested in hearing from us and maintaining a link with us. We know how to communicate with them; we know what language to use.
When our letter is written we enclose it in an envelope on which we have written the correct address. If the address is incorrect or the mailman is inefficient, the letter — no matter how carefully composed — will not be delivered.
When we prepare a sermon, how much thought do we give to the congregation as individual persons? Do we know where they live? and how they live? Will our sermon come out of the study and out from the pulpit to get home to the people in the pew? The earnest preacher will do everything possible to get to know the congregation. That is not easy these days but it is very important. We need to know their hopes and their fears; their strengths and their weaknesses and to recognize that — through it all — every person in every pew has a deep hunger and thirst for spiritual food.
To meet the need of our hearers we must speak in a language which they understand. This will require us to monitor our own vocabulary, which is too often a foreign language to our congregation.
When I first began to lecture in homiletics the popular word of the day in academic circles was “existential.” Several sermons which were brought to me for analysis used the expression “existentially speaking.”
When the student was asked to explain this term, the usual response was, “You know what I mean.” I responded, “Perhaps I do and perhaps I don’t, but I won’t be in your congregation. The one who is there won’t have the foggiest idea what you are talking about. That would be a shame because he expects a message from God in a language he understands.”
I once heard Paul Tillich give three addresses on the same day. The first was to an international group of theology professors and students; the second was to a convocation of liberal arts and science faculties; the third was to a public audience. In each case the language he used and the illustrations he employed differed according to his audience. He did this without patronizing or “talking-down” to his hearers. As one would speak French to a Frenchman and Spanish to a Spaniard, he spoke the language of his audience. His message was not merely spoken; it was delivered.
Congregations are made up of such a mix of people that it is by no means easy to choose the right words all the time. I have picked up some helpful hints from some of my colleagues. One useful thing is to invite a few honest and trusted members of our congregations to monitor our sermons and challenge us when we seem to miss the mark. It is also comforting to know that the highly-educated person in the pew, unless he is an outright snob, will not feel that his intelligence has been slighted if you offer a parallel meaning to a word which would be unfamiliar to a non-graduate; whereas the less-educated hearer would be cheated if you clothed your sermon in arcane and polysyllabic words.
As preachers we are not in the pulpit to impress other people (or ourselves for that matter) with our academics and our vast vocabularies. An old saying has its application here: “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Our pastorate is “the care of souls.” Caring for the people of God who are hungry for His word should encourage us to speak to them clearly and pass on to them the message which God has entrusted to us for safe delivery.

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