Some thoughts on preaching as I prepare to retire
In about 3 months’ time my wife and I will be retiring so we have been downsizing. Last week I threw out 30 years of old sermons, bulletins and study notes. They were stored in three file drawers and filled one 30 gallon garbage can. Since I devote at least 16 hours/week preparing and leading worship, they represent more than 24,000 hours of my life.
I thought about keeping them, sorting them, and perhaps publishing them, but I realized I would never do it. I also doubt that my children would have the patience to go through all of that stuff after I’m gone. Since I haven’t looked at any of these sermons in at least 15 years, not even to pluck out an old one and reuse it, I decided to be done with them.
In the movie, A River Runs through It, the narrator relates that his father, Rev. John Mclean, carefully wrote out his sermons, but always destroyed them after they had been preached. He reasoned that once the sermon was done, it had served its purpose to bring glory to God and to edify God’s people. To keep the manuscript would only tempt him to revel in his own intellect, an exercise in vainglory. That puzzled me when I was younger, but now that I am on the cusp of retirement, I get it.
I recently asked the members of my consistory if any of them could recall even one of my sermons. No one could; nor did I expect them to. One woman later told me she remembers being touched by several of my sermons, but she couldn’t remember what they were.
It’s fine that no one remembers. As a general rule, I do not believe that one memorable sermon ever changes someone’s life. Rather it is the faithful preaching of the Word over the course of years that shapes and molds us. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “The most important thing is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction.” (quoted by Eugene A. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Inter Varsity Press, 2000) I trust that over the long haul God has used my preaching to bless, challenge, and encourage others.
As I dumped my sermons into the recycling bin, a thought crossed my mind:
“The Word of the Lord endures forever;
but the preacher’s words …
not so much.”
I am OK with that. I don’t want people to remember my words; I want them to encounter God’s Word.
May God add his blessing to the preaching of his holy and inspired Word.