My Dad’s Sermons
Dad preached the Gospel from the mid-70s into the early 2000s. He had a lucrative job with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when he made the decision to become a servant of the word (see Luke 1:2). Dad commented one time that while working for the Post-Dispatch, he earned the most he ever earned in his life.
Dad preached full-time for six congregations, nearly always for part-time pay. During those decades, there was only about four years that he was really full-time. He never preached for a church larger than 60 members. He never had the blessing of working under an eldership. He never had a church secretary (except Mom). He never had a youth and family minister.
It has become fashionable within the last two decades to criticize that generation of older preachers. I’m currently reading a book, published in 1990, which does just that. They looked at the Bible “too scientifically,” or they didn’t preach about the cross, or they didn’t preach about the atonement or they didn’t preach about grace. Blah. Blah. Blah.
I have inherited Dad’s collection of sermons. I am going through them, choosing sermons to preach here at Swartz Creek, the Sunday after Father’s Day, in honor of Dad. Many (about half) of these sermons are hand-written. Dad never owned a computer while he was a full-time preacher.
I just grabbed a random handful of Dad’s sermons - twenty. It’s not hard to grab a handful randomly because he had no system in his file cabinet. The sermons are not in alphabetical order, chronological order, or thematic order. They are in manila folders with the places and dates where he preached them written on the inside.
“When Each Man Cleans up His Own Life.” First preached in 1980, last preached in 2001. It is a lesson on personal responsibility. “The Essence of True Greatness” (i.e., a lesson on humble service). “The Church” (identifying marks - This would be one sermon the critic noted above would not have liked.) “The Bible and Profanity.” “Launch out Into the Deep” (a lesson from Luke 5).
“The Christians’ Highest Joy” (1 Thess. 2:17-20). First preached in 1983, last in 2001. “Mary Remembered” (Luke :41-52). “Last Days.” “Spiritual Ignorance” (1 Corinthians 2:6-9). “Falling in Love with the Lost” (preached nine times in eight churches). “Indifference” (Rev. 3:14-22).
“Things Honorable” (Romans 2:7). “The Nature of God” (Col. 1:15). “A Mother’s Day” sermon (actually two by that name). “Fishers of Men” (Luke 5). “Keeping Your Eyes on Jesus” (Matt. 14:22-33; preached nine times in four states). “Counting the Cost” (Luke 14:25-33). “The Blessings of an Established Heart” (Psa. 112). “What am I Worth to the Church?” (Col. 3:1-11).
Assuming these lessons are representative, what can we say? First, Dad’s lessons were eminently practical. He tried very hard to give people in the pew something to do in response to Christ. Second, while Dad avoided in-depth doctrinal studies in his sermons (like the atonement; he reserved those for Bible class), he tied most lessons into the Christ on the cross. Third, Dad was evangelistic at heart. He wanted souls to come to Jesus whom he loved and preached. Fourth, Dad’s lessons were weighted heavily on thematic studies rather than expository studies (as I prefer). Fifth, Dad’s lessons were largely optimistic with few lessons that could be considered “brow beating.”
While Dad filled his lessons with Scripture, this does not mean he quoted those Scriptures out of context. The apostle Paul strung together Scriptures in order to prove his point but when you study their Old Testament context, you see that he was very cognizant of their original context. The same would be true of Dad and that generation of preachers.
Comparatively speaking, there are just a few of Dad’s sermons I’ll preach. It’s not because I could not preach them. It’s because they don’t fit my style.
The older generation of preachers do not deserve the modern generation’s condescending attitude or contempt. It seems to me the collective memory of these critics is decidedly incomplete. Every generation has the obligation to go back to the Scriptures and study and learn the sacred truths for itself. Also, let us be thankful that there is a current generation of Christians because my Dad’s generation studied the Word, loved the Word, taught the Word and lived that Word. May we follow their example!
Your fellow-servant in Christ,
Veritas non verba magistri
Maranatha! (1 Cor. 16:22)