For my wonderful friends who questions themselves on whether they are touching people's lives with their messages. We have all wondered from time to time whether anyone is hearing us. The blessing is that most of us cares whether they do or not. I was reading from one of my old Course of Studies book, The Company of Preachers: Wisdom on Preaching Augustine to the Present, and came upon the chapter on Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969). I have quoted a section of his writing here in the hope that it will bless someone like it did me.
When I began my ministry I did not know how to preach. I had been trained to stand up and talk in public, so that, however little I had to say, I could at least say it, but how my first parishioners endured those early sermons I don not see. In reminiscence I can discern several factors which helped me out of that morass of homiletical frustration and bewilderment, but one factor is primary. Perhaps I now overemphasize my first victorious experience in personal counseling, but it certainly was crucial.
A young man from one of the church's finest families, falling victim to alcoholism, sought my help. I recall my desperate feeling that if the gospel of Christ did not have in it available power to save that youth, of what use was it? When months of conference and inward struggle ended in triumph, when that young man said to me, "If you ever find anyone who doesn't believe in God, send him to me--I know!" something happened to my preaching that courses in homiletics do not teach. This was the kind of effect that a sermon ought to have. I could deal with real problems, speak directly to individual needs, and because of it transforming consequences could happen to some person then and there. From that day on, the secret prayer which I have offered, as I stood up to preach, has run like this: Somewhere in this congregation is one person who desperately needs what I am going to say: O God, help me to get at him!
Richard Lischer, editor, the Company of Preachers: Wisdom and Preaching, Augustine to the Present (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2002)
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