About once a year I encounter a preaching dilemma related to a special day on the American calendar and the text that comes next in our sermon series. Last Sunday was just such an example. We’re in the book of Nehemiah and last Sunday was chapter three. I struggle to imagine a more challenging text to preach through at any time (save maybe chapter seven of Nehemiah) and having to preach it on Mother’s day was even more daunting.
Unlike some of the other ET authors who schedule their sermons out months in advance, I don’t do this very well. I’ve tried, it just always ends up changing so much I usually scrap it. I also readily admit that I’m not a big fan of special occasion preaching. I know people come with expectations of me saying great things about mom or dad on their special days, but my experience has taught me that if I emphasize one group on a special day, I’ll likely ignore someone else on their special day and end up insulting them unwittingly.
This past Sunday, maybe against wise counsel, I pressed on into Nehemiah three for Mother’s day. Quite a few in the congregation gave me a puzzled look as I began and the PowerPoint showed Nehemiah 3 as the text. Taking the queue from Nehemiah himself, I have to say that, “the good hand of my God was upon me.” I won’t sugar coat this thing, preaching a text that lists records of names and hanging wodden gates is challenging, preaching it on Mother’s day is up hill, both ways in the snow. BUT! Here is the lesson I learned and I trust will be an encouragement to you in your sermon preparation and preaching.
I believe it is those moments that cast us, as preachers, into a place of humility and dependence that might escape us as we get in our exegetical ruts. I was forced out of my normally neat propositional box this past Sunday, but in so doing I really believe that God allowed me to broaden my preaching in general. I was also not able to nuance a lot of things because there is not a lot to nuance in this text. Oh sure, you can go on and on about the kinds of refuse the Jews collected at the Refuse Gate, but honestly, how helpful is that?
Instead, I was forced to take a larger section text that I am normally comfortable taking and to do the hard work of prayerfully finding principles with in a text that seems like a Fort Knox of exegetical gold. I can’t recall praying more for a sermon and honestly, depending less on commentaries. It was me, my Hebrew text, BW 7.0 and lots of time with God. It was invigorating.
How did it go? Only God knows. Thankfully there were no rotten tomatoes thrown and a few encouraging comments. What I am especially thankful for is that God used this challenging text on a very special day to renew my confidence and dependence on him in the preaching enterprise. It forced me to work hard and pray harder. Maybe it was not the best Mother’s day sermon possible, but in the end it made me a more humble preacher and I know that will be a blessing to our church in the long run.
Men, don’t shy away from the challenging texts, even on those special days. I believe it can be a place where God deepens your faith and dependence on him in your preaching.