TITLE: Response to 'Deliver The Written Punch'
By Janice Cartwright
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For me personally, the best sermons are not necessarily those that deliver a flinty blow, below the belt or otherwise. After thirty years of kidney-punch sermons, now it is the words that find their way to my vitals via my heart, that work in me best - what God is working out.
He says it is His goodness that brings us to repentance and I believe that in the mature disciple, grace is more humbling than a beating ever could be.
The best sermons, like the best books, draw me back to hear or read, a second time. But the best of the best, like superb poetry and music, sound the same sweet note upon multiple hearings, or readings. These are the ones I have to return to time after time for yet another sample of their salubrious flavor.
In my sermon-hearing repertoire of the past thirty-five years there are two that rank as being this 'go-over-able,' this unforgettable. One stretches back to my distant, legalistic past and has become for me, in retrospect, an instrument for acceptance and understanding of the graciousness of our Lord.
Though I had heard it from the horse's mouth at an earlier date, a friend gave me a copy of this one, recorded on what would now be considered 'antediluvian' tape. Over the years, perhaps in one of our many moves, or maybe because I loaned it out, the tape was lost to us. For this reason I am able to replay it only from memory. Even so I can roll its flavor around on my tongue, can hear the clear tenor of the pastor’s voice, ringing out his subject.
And if I close my eyes, allowing my imagination to have full reign, I still see the personal illustrations Pastor Carn incorporated into his text as the bright mind pictures they were when first uttered. The individuals he depicted acting out their troublesome life situations come forward to this day to help me with knotty problems of my own.
The second is more recent, less than a year old, and I have it on CD. I listen about once a month - would do so more often if I didn’t fear my human tendency to hackney even the most profound. Ironically the man who delivered this sermon, which I heard the first time in person, is an elder, but NO preacher. He abhors public speaking, anxiously avoids it. Only because of his great love for the Lord did he agree to take the sermon on a particular Sunday when the church pastor had to be out of town.
Only once before have I witnessed a human in such agony over having to stand before a live audience, open his mouth and hook words and phrases together to form speech. When Blake Kazala stood behind the lectern that morning, every cell in his body was exercised to its limit. Some nervous speakers require a hanky to mop their brow; he brought to the pulpit a bath towel with his sermon - and used it frequently.
Perhaps in fact it was this very thing, - what the words cost him personally, - that made the message so valuable for his hearers. The sermon was his personal testimony and it was a deeply moving, emotional experience for all of us.
Once during the sermon he muttered this humble praise, “Thank God! At least I’m not crying - as both my wife and I did when I made her listen to it at home!”
As I ponder more what it is that makes a work of art truly great (be it writing, or speaking, in the Christian arena), as opposed to a little great, or just mediocre, I sense the answer lies in what the apostle Paul expressed in his very insightful statement about glorying in weakness.
"And He said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather therefore glory in infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. II Corinthians 12:9
The more there is of Him, the less there is of me - the more effective the message.
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