Some sermons you don’t want to preach. You hear the Savior say, “child, thy strength indeed is small,” because he knows that you know this is the truth needing to be shared. But the text is so blunt, on point, and penetrating you know it will stoke the passions connected with conviction.
There was an incident where a person spoke some things that were not in line with the Bible, along the lines of legalism. To make matters worse, this happened in front of a large group of people. Instead of confronting the person in the moment I chose to remain silent and seek the Spirit’s leading.
The dangerous thing about asking the Spirit what to do is He answers, expecting you to be obedient. God answered my request for this moment six months before I asked. On my sermon calendar I had planned to preach a series through Mark 7, Jesus speaking out against the white-washed attitude of the Pharisees. At the core of this series would be a thought launching volleys at the poor understanding that had publicly been put on display.
The temptation was to change the plan, but how could I ask God to help and ignore the obvious answer? Jeremiah wrote, “Sometimes, I think, ‘I will make no mention of his message. I will not speak as his messenger anymore.’ But then his message becomes like a fire locked up inside me, burning in my heart and soul…”. (Jeremiah 20:9, NET) was me and I could not deviate from the path placed before me. I knew this was the message, and it was not going to be popular, and I had to be sure to separate my opinions from the truth revealed.
For those who sit and listen on a weekly basis, you may have never considered this to be part of sermon preparation. It may have you asking the question, ‘What goes into the creation of a sermon?’ From a passage in Ezekiel, I will attempt to provide a brief answer. Understand, none of us preachers have the exact same process, but we also are not that different.
#1 The call to speak
Ezekiel 2:1-2 He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet and I will speak with you.” As he spoke to me, a wind came into me and stood me on my feet, and I heard the one speaking to me. (NET)
For me, this happens most often during my morning Bible reading. This time is not for any sermon preparation, lesson studies, or anything like that. It is strictly me, God, and His Word for four chapters. As I read through, the Spirit will say speak on this verse, passage, chapter, or even book. That is the “wind” coming into me. The portion of Scripture and thought connected are jotted down, then I pray over where to place it on my calendar. Others may preach on the thought that week, occasionally so do I. But many times, the Spirit helps it to marinade in my thoughts over time.
#2 Eat the scroll
Ezekiel 2:8-10 As for you, son of man, listen to what I am saying to you: Do not rebel like that rebellious house! Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.” Then I looked and realized a hand was stretched out to me, and in it was a written scroll. He unrolled it before me, and it had writing on the front and back; written on it was laments, mourning, and woe. (NET)
Once the Spirit has led me to a text, and often an incubation period has occurred, the moment has come to prepare to share with others. This is the call to “eat the scroll.” There have been times when I have gotten up and shared from the hip on a passage, but that is only a rare occasion based on unique circumstances.
Usually, that original thought God shares with me needs additional digging to uncover whether it is in line with all the Bible. And equally important, how does this passage apply to our lives in 2020. The Bible is God’s will revealed to us, and His will should challenge us because our natural human condition is so different.
“Eat the scroll” for the preacher is a call for us to feast on the depth, width, and height of God’s love in the text. To wrestle with meaning for ourselves in order to share with those who will hear. The study time is when the Spirit preaches the sermon to the preacher.
#3 Whether they listen or not
Ezekiel 2:4-7 The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and hard-hearted, and you must say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And as for them, whether they listen or not—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. But you, son of man, do not fear their words and do not be terrified of the looks they give you, for they are a rebellious house! You must speak my words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious. (NET)
The most loving act God did for humanity is give us free will, the ability to make choices for ourselves. Of course, the most frustrating thing about free will is that people choose for themselves. As a preacher, my task is to faithfully share the word with you. My task is not to make you, or anyone listen. The message must be heard, accepted, and lived out by the listener. The preacher’s task does not change based on listener’s participation. But the preacher’s prayer is you do hear and are transformed through the Holy Spirit’s power.
Pray for your pastor. The authors of the Bible had to wrestle with the Spirit as they penned the words. Likewise, the preacher does the same, only trying to reveal the Spirit’s intention through the earthen vessel. What is shared may hurt your feelings, alter everything you knew about God, and often bring you to your knees; but now the words your preacher shares did the same to him or her first. Do not ignore what is said, do not send angry “how dare you say” letters, but in the quiet wrestle with the words.
written by Jason Barnett. Jason is the pastor at Greensburg Church of the Nazarene, in Greensburg, KY. You can LISTEN to his sermons via The Dirt Path Sermon Podcast. FOLLOW him on twitter and The Dirt Path Facebook page. Also checkout his weekly podcast, Mumblings in a Mud Puddle.