Sunday, October 6, 2013
Every good sermon has a stopping place. Some of those who listen to those of us who preach often say that most sermons have several good stopping places. What the pew sitters are saying is that we preachers have trouble bringing our sermons to a conclusion. We tend to just keep going on and on and on and on. I must be as guilty as the next preacher. When my children hear me preach, it no longer surprises me to hear one of them say, "Daddy, you came to several good stopping places!" Of course, what they are also saying is that I went right on through them without even a pause!
These stopping places that are missed are not hard to see. It is a moment in the midst of the sermon when the message has been nailed with such clarity a blind man can see. It is that moment when the congregation slips to the edge of the pew and collective declares, "I get it." It is that moment when the people are ready to respond if only given the opportunity. Sometimes the right stopping place is not evident in the study where the sermon is prayed out and written. Sometimes it only becomes apparent in the passion of the preaching. Too often we preachers are so married to what has been prepared that we lose sight of the fact that the Holy Spirit is at work trying to do the final editing work as we stand there in the pulpit.
When the Holy Spirit is editing, it is best to leave the scraps on the pulpit instead of plowing ahead to preach the unnecessary anyway. We pray for the Spirit to be at work during the preparation of preaching as well as in the process of the preaching. Therefore, changes should not surprise us. Neither should we be afraid to embrace them. What we think is a great ending for a sermon may turn out to be anti-climatic if the Spirit has watched us race by the stop sign He has thrown up for us to see and obey.