Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3–4, NIV).
The scripture has been read, the special music sung. Standing in the pulpit, I do the same things I always do before a sermon: arrange my notes, take a sip of water and then smile at my wife in the audience. These things done, it’s time to begin.
This will be the 332nd sermon I’ve preached in this particular church.
And for the 332nd time, I wonder why I’m here.
To be sure, I’m a pretty good preacher. Not a great preacher. Not a Morris Vendon or a Dwight Nelson, much less a Billy Graham. But give me 12 hours and I can usually come up with the kind of sermon my daughters would give a B+.
Coming from a pair of teenagers, that’s high praise.
Then too, my audience is more than just “pretty good.” No, the people in this church listen to me—and as they listen, they follow along in their Bibles. They pray for me when I stumble or search for the right word. They even remember to turn off their cell phones...most of the time.
No, it’s a blessing to worship with these people—but as I stand in the pulpit, I realize how much I need a blessing in return. They look tired, many of them. They look worried. And some are in so much pain, it is all they can do to listen as I speak.
See the man there? He just found out that his wife’s been having an affair.
The woman behind him? She goes in for a biopsy next week.
The couple to her left? They’ve not seen their daughter—their only child—in 26 years.
So what do I tell these people?
What makes me think my “pretty good sermon” will make a difference?
In the end, all I can offer my people is a text—a text and a testimony.
The text is my scripture for this morning.
The testimony comes from those hours of study and prayer: It is the testimony that this text speaks to others. It speaks to me. And what it says, I now share with them.
When I do this, I am like a P.O.W.—like one of those pilots who are shot down, captured and then locked away in solitary confinement.
No sooner do my guards close the door, however, than I hear tapping on the walls. The tapping forms letters. The letters form words. The words tell me that I am not alone, that I have friends, that whatever help they can give is mine for the asking.
But having heard this message, I must now pass it along to the next cell.
That’s what I do on Sabbath mornings. Slowly, painfully, as best I can, I tap out a message to my people—the message I’ve heard through that text. It is the message that we are not alone. That we have a Friend. That whatever help He can give is ours for the asking.
And no, I don’t always get that message across. Sometimes, I don’t hear what the text is saying. Sometimes, I don’t know how to pass it along.
But until somebody else shows up, I’ll keep tapping away.
That’s why I preach.
Greg Brothers pastors a two-church district on the Oregon Coast. The church members he cited are real, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they exist.