“Seven Pounds” was the name of a 2008 movie about a man who didn’t want to live anymore and wanted his heart to go to person needing it. Figures can do more than inform they can crystallize. When I saw that movie, I was struck by the fact that from a biological perspective all that keeps this body going is seven pounds of muscle. My 2,000th sermon is another number that has crystallized things.
For one, I thought I would never get here. It took 31 years of preaching every Sunday and Wednesdays in Advent and Lent. I didn’t count the sermons I preached in the Army chaplaincy as often they were the ones I had written for my church. “The sum of Luther’s extant sermons is 2,300” (Here I Stand, 273). It will take God’s grace and over 4 more years of every Sunday preaching to get there.
Using averages – meaning in the beginning my sermons ran to 2,600 words now they are about 1,850 – I’ve written 3.8 million words. Today’s average novel runs to about 65,000 words, so I’ve written the equivalent of 58 novels. I read somewhere that big magazines use to pay between 2 and 4 dollars a word. That would be 7.6 to 15.2 million dollars. Recently though I’ve seen that freelance writers make between 20 and 30 cents a word. I did better; I made 32 cents.
That’s not bad considering the Lord said Paul would be shown how much he must suffer for the privilege of preaching His name. Micaiah got nothing but “bread and water” for the rest of his life for his preaching the Word faithfully. John the Baptist was remunerated with a hair shirt, all the locusts and wild honey he could eat, and a lost head. Others “were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated– the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11: 37-38).
With David in Psalm 37:25 I can say, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” The Lord has raised up all sorts of people in all sorts of circumstances to provide for me and my family. If the congregations I have served knew how many times the Lord made up for their shortfall by the gifts of others, they would be surprised. I say this not to their shame but God’s glory.
It’s also true that you couldn’t pay me to do this. There is no amount of money that would make this humanly worthwhile. Neither Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Amos, nor Paul wanted to preach. Even Luther quit for a year. In fact, one of the tests for whether you are a steward of the Lord’s is if you do it not of your own will (1 Cor. 9:17).
Let me close by sharing some thoughts from Luther and a non-Lutheran on preaching: Luther believed it was the preacher’s task “’to preach hell fire to the proud, paradise to the pious, afflict the evil, and comfort the pious.'” ‘”In the pulpit one should bare one’s breast and give the people milk to drink, for every day a new church is growing up, and it needs the rudiments.'” “Luther also knew that a sermon that a preacher himself did not regard highly was capable of accomplish things that were not apparent” (Brecht, Luther III, 13).
The following final thought comes from a non-Lutheran. It’s a not a thought but an entire hymn that crystallizes much and comforts more. You’ll recognize the last verse as the first verse of one of our hymns. It’s really the last verse of another hymn by John Newton entitled “Travailing in Birth for Souls.” Newton is the 18th century slaver turned preacher. Any confessional pastor can see why it didn’t make it into our hymn books, but every preaching pastor knows the travail of which he speaks.
- What contradictions meet
In ministers’ employ!
It is a bitter sweet,
A sorrow full of joy:
No other post affords a place
For equal honor or disgrace!
- Who can describe the pain
Which faithful preachers feel,
Constrained to speak in vain
To hearts as hard as steel?
Or who can tell the pleasures felt
When stubborn hearts begin to melt?
- The Savior’s dying love,
The soul’s amazing worth,
Their utmost efforts move
And draw their bowels forth:
They pray and strive, their rest departs,
Till Christ be formed in sinners’ hearts.
- If some small hope appear,
They still are not content,
But with a jealous fear,
They watch for the event:
Too oft they find their hopes deceived,
Then how their inmost souls are grieved!
- But when their pains succeed
And from the tender blade
The ripening ears proceed,
Their toils are overpaid:
No harvest joy can equal theirs
To find the fruit of all their cares.
- On what has now been sown,
Thy blessing, Lord, bestow;
The power is Thine alone,
To make it spring and grow:
Do Thou the gracious harvest raise,
And Thou alone shalt have the praise.