Back in the summer of 2009, the church we were a part of started preaching through 1 Thessalonians. Like many expositional preaching churches, it wasn’t anything new to preach through a book. I imagine I was like most people: Awesome. Sounds great. Largely indifferent to which book we chose so long as it was in the Bible.
I distinctly remember us getting to1 Thessalonians 4:13:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
It was an encouraging sermon on suffering by my friend and pastor Jared Mellinger. To be honest, I don’t remember the sermon. I was more struck by the passage. I’d never really seen it as fresh and living in Scripture. Grieving? I was 26, how much real suffering and lose that the passage speaks to had I really experienced? Very little up to that point.
My wife and I were about two and half years into our marriage. We’d been trying to get pregnant for a while with no luck. And then we got a positive. Joy and gladness! Excitement to join our friends bounding babies in their laps.
But then… we lost the baby. A miscarriage.
Those were dark days. Our first real experience of the pain and suffering in the world. The pain was difficult to describe – pain over the loss of a person you’d never met, but are intimately tied to. The loss of dreams freshly awakened and then stabbed in the shadows without any recourse.
But then I remembered that sermon. Or rather, I remembered the passage my friend preached on.
I don’t remember the sermon, but it changed my life.
By drawing my attention to God’s word, where I found fresh faith in the midst of my suffering, God’s light was there. In the darkness, because of this sermon, I held up the torch of 1 Thessalonians 4:13: We do not grieve as those who have no hope.
Though I can’t remember anything about that sermon, the Holy Spirit used it to drive that passage into my soul, and change my life.
Now, as a pastor myself, it’s an interesting moment in my life to reflect upon. I preach nearly every Sunday of the year. I labor over my sermons, with the cares and trials of our people and neighbors in front of me.
And yet, I realize that most (all?) of my sermons will be forgotten.
Nobody will remember my well crafted main point. Nobody will repine upon my three points in the afternoon sun, thanking God for such a clever pastor. When they’re 10 years (or weeks) down the road, nobody will remember my illustrations that cause me so much pain to come up with.
But they will, I pray, remember God’s Word. They will remember the life of Christ we’ve preached through, or see Exodus in a fresh way, or whatever else. I care very little if they remember my sermons.
I’m also not sure that people need to be overly concerned about remembering sermons. Much like food, it’s important that you eat quality food, three meals a day, from whatever the food pyramid thing is these days, etc. You remember a few exceptional meals – like the Alaskan crab on newspaper and melted butter – but those are rare.
The Puritans had a habit of asking each other “How did you fare under the preaching of the Word?” I think that’s the sense of what I’m getting at. It’s less important that you remember great quotes from the passage, and more that the Word of God is made fresh so that you know, experience, and obey God’s Word. Who cares if you remember the sermon delivery?
I pray you remember God’s Word. For it is the words of eternal life.
If you’re in my church (God help you), you don’t have to remember my sermons. I promise not to quiz you. You can forget my sermons, just don’t forget God’s Word.