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For Sunday Or Eternity?

  • Robert Leslie Holmes
  • 2005 1 Sep
  • COMMENTS
For Sunday Or Eternity?
Are you preparing your sermon for next Sunday or for eternity? An old story tells about an aged street evangelist who preached on Matthew 22:13: “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  A gummy elderly fellow who happened to be passing by shouted, “Look, preacher, I have no teeth!” With no pause, the preacher replied, “Sir, teeth will be provided!” We smile, but here’s the truth: We have something to learn from that elderly evangelist who was preaching for eternity.

Ready or not, here Sunday comes! If, like me, you are a local church pastor, you know that relentless weekly push. But are we thinking of preaching for Sunday or for eternity? My old seminary homiletics professor taught us that we were shortchanging our calling if we didn’t prepare one hour for every minute in our pulpits. That sounded like a lot back then. It still sounds like a lot but the truth is it is often not enough.

With everything else we have to do as pastors, I agree with my friend Bill Self, who jokes that sometimes by Saturday afternoon anything looks good! Well, in fact, it can if we’re not well disciplined. We have such a short time to prepare for such a long time.  And, if you think that’s hard, consider this: The fact is that we have only minutes in a typical church service to prepare God’s people for eternity! Now, that’s a short time to preach about a long time.

No wonder some of us have taken the easier road of preaching pop-psychology or a strange adult version of those object lessons many of us have used with youngsters.  Let’s call it what it is: “preaching lite.” Such preaching may save some people time but it will not save any souls. If we believe in God, if we believe in what His book says about eternity, if we believe in the eternal existence of the soul, then, surely nothing is more important than to keep our people directed where they shall live forever and ever.  It is only because of eternity that everything in time becomes important, meaningful, valuable, or worthwhile. Therefore, this gospel we are called to preach makes it of urgent importance that everything we preach should be rightly related to where we want our people to spend eternity.

To fail to preach about eternity is an act of homiletical heresy. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor. 15:19). Paul was all too aware that life on earth is so impermanent. As preachers we must never forget that eternity was what Jesus came to restore and what He calls us to preach. For anyone of us to assume that we can get around to preparing our people for eternity “some other time” in order that we may give them some handy hints that will get them through the next week or the next month may well be the ultimate act of arrogant assumption. 

In my first charge as a young pastor, my first two funeral services were for people younger than I was at the time. And I was just 26 years of age! She was a young mother diagnosed with a rapidly spreading cancer that was too far spread when it was diagnosed to offer any hope. He was a seventeen-year-old who ran his pickup off the highway. For me it was a crash course in preaching with urgency that I’ve never forgotten.

To you and to me is given a trust to deliver the one message that will enable people to prepare for what comes next. May God give us a willingness — no, a passion — to do our part in delivering that message clearly for Him.  Robert Louis Stevenson said it best: “The stars shine over the mountains, The stars shine over the sea, The stars look up to Almighty God, And the stars look down on me; The stars shall last for a million years, a million years and a day, But God and I will live and love, when the stars have passed away.”

But only if we approach our preaching with eternity in mind!

___________________

Robert Leslie Holmes is pastor of Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church, in Lexington, SC, and a contributing editor to Preaching. His newest book When Good Enough Just Isn't Good Enough (Ambassador-Emerald Intl.) is available now. He may be reached at [email protected]


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