Epicenter of Grace

* Please make sure you read the after-word of this post.

I am once again amazed at how often I ignore my own better judgment in preaching sermons.

I did it again just this past week.

I tried to cover too much text with one sermon.

I preached overtime and I was not as organized in my thoughts as I should have been.

I  took hostage my listeners, bound and gagged as it were,  threw them in the back seat of a sermon and commenced to drive them wildly through the back streets of 2 Corinthians 6-9. Fast, furious, reckless at times.  White knuckled, my listeners, held on and trusted me that this wild ride would somehow lead to a glimpse of God’s agenda for lives well lived.

I spent several years studying communication theory.  I should know better.  Never try to cover in one sermon what would be better organized into several lessons.

It never ceases to amaze me however, that even a sermon so fraught with inadequacy, so poorly structured, can bring about benefit to those who come hungry for spiritual truth.  And so it was on Sunday.

I was already reeling at how inadequate my effort had been to summarize Paul’s words and I was doing the “post-mortem” that we preacher-types do on our sermons.

In the mold of  scenes we’ve observed in those oft-watched TV medical dramas, we make the call.  “Time of death, 11:45 a.m.”   I was thinking about how, in the skilled hands of a better practitioner, the sermon could have lived….but I let it die on the table.  Nothing to do but pin a tag on its big toe and wheel it to the morgue.

Just then, it was the squeeze on my hand that called me from the imaginary morgue scene…..the sound of the one wobbling wheel of the gurney still resounding in my brain.

A  male member of  Oakhaven was shaking my hand and saying,  “Thanks for the words this morning.”  “That convicted me.”   “I needed to hear that.”

That  scene was soon followed by a hug and a handshake and a heartfelt word of encouragement.   There was emotion evident and passionate exchange of ideas and convictions freshly stirred.

It seemed that God had indeed compensated and the Holy Spirit had penetrated as only the Word can do.

In retrospect, I attribute three things to the outcome of today’s sermon.

1) These are not just people who show up to listen to my sermon.  These are friends and fellow strugglers with whom I have shared my life and with whom I have shared theirs.  No single sermon out trumps relationship.

2) The sermon’s text was based upon a text ( 2 Cor. 6-9) which is about people opening their hearts.  (see particularly 2 Cor. 6: 11-13)  The preparation of open hearts in the preaching event is at a minimum, of equal importance to the preparation of the sermon.

3) The title of the sermon:  “The Epicenter of Grace”. I don’t customarily announce a sermon’s title.  On this occasion I shared the title before I began preaching.  I let everyone know that…..  as uncertain as the route might be on our journey together, the destination would be to arrive at the epicenter of grace.

“God’s heart is a giving heart.”

“God is a giver…..so ought we to be”.

And a final note of tribute to the listeners….no….let’s make that “the disciples” at Oakhaven.  I thank God for their grace shown to me in that most humbling and vulnerable of acts to which God calls some of us: Preaching.


Make no mistake.  This is not to be taken as an excuse or justification for poorly crafted sermons.  If anything, it should underscore the importance of  effective preaching and its role in spiritual formation and encountering God’s word.

As one who takes this seriously, I read a few books each year just along the idea of preaching and how to do it responsibly.  A sampling of books I recommend from favorites over the years in no particular order:

Tom Long – The Witness of Preaching

James Thompson –  Preaching Like Paul

Fred Craddock –  (3 Titles)  PreachingCherry Log Sermons &   Overhearing the Gospel

Doug Pagitt – Preaching Re-Imagined

Chris Altrock – Preaching to Pluralists

Lori Carrell – The Great American Sermon Survey

And Highly recommended:  Lipscomb University Christian Scholars Conference directed by David Fleer

About Gary Cleveland

An old chunk of coal waiting to become a diamond some day. I spend the bulk of my time focused on spiritual development. I teach, preach and stand by the hurting and wounded. I believe our heavenly Father offers us daily opportunities to discover who we are and what we can yet become. I serve as a bringer of good news in and around the city of Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
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3 Responses to Epicenter of Grace

  1. Andrew Frazier says:

    I thank you for your honestly and boldness. You call life like you see it and I can appreciate that. I loved your sermon and God continues to use us despite ourselves, this is truly the work of God.

  2. Josette Smithson says:

    First, I have to say your blogs add so much more to your sermons and they present even more food for thought. Second, you have painted Paul in a new way for me. I found myself relating to him especially in the public speaking department lately. There’s a reason I waited until my senior year of college to take public speaking. Even now, right before I get up in front of students, the butterflies still hit me. I also find self reflection after each lesson a valuable learning tool. After all, we learn the most from our mistakes. If you’re going to fall, at least do it with gusto!

  3. Pingback: Notes and Links for Christian Workers Meeting – Jan. 18, 2011 | Southmoon & A Cup of Java

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