By Kurt Lammi
Preaching is hard. You know that. I know that. It’s hard trying to come up with something fresh on the text each week. It’s especially hard because typically we don’t know what happens to the sermon after we deliver it.
I find it appropriate that preachers talk about “delivering” a sermon – as if the sermon were a baby being born. It makes sense, right? You’ve had this seed of an idea inside of you. You’ve been feeding it. It’s been growing within you. Then you have to deliver it. You step into that pulpit and it comes out of you for the people in the pews to receive. Sometimes you’re proud of it. Sometimes it still needs help. But you have to let go of it. You send it out into the world and you have no idea what will happen to it. Plus, there’s the fact that you have to repeat the whole process all over again next week.
In thinking about these worries, I can’t help but think of the sower and his seed (Matthew 13:1-9). He has this seed. He’s casting it onto the ground, hoping that it will grow into something good. But, after he throws it out there, he has no idea what happens to it. Or, if he does, most of the time it’s not good. Some of the seed falls on the path and the birds eat it. Some of seed falls on rocky ground where it doesn’t establish roots. Some of it falls among the thorns that choke it out. And some of it falls on good soil where it produces a fruitful yield. I imagine the fruit from that good soil is what encouraged the sower to keep on casting seed.
But far too often it seems like we don’t even see that. We deliver our sermon, we deliver our baby, we cast the seed, and it doesn’t seem like any fruit is produced – aside from the polite “Nice sermon, Pastor” after service. Sometimes we don’t even know if the good soil is producing fruit.
Preaching is hard.
But hear this. Your status as a sower, as a preacher, as a leader of the church is not dependent upon how much fruit is produced by others. Making the fruit grow is the work of the Holy Spirit. Oh, sure, we like to think that it reflects on us – especially when there is a bountiful harvest. But, of course, when there is “not much going on here,” or when there aren’t many people in worship, or when the giving numbers are down, we feel bad – and others think badly about us. But by that logic, only mega-churches would be “successful” and only the pastors who lead them are doing a good job. That’s ridiculous. Even small congregations and their pastors are still going good work for the kingdom of God. Your role as a sower is not dependent upon how fruitful others are.
For example, there’s a story that Martin Luther preached his final sermon in his hometown of Eislebeng, Germany. This is where he was born and this is where he would die. His life’s work with the Reformation had come full circle. When he preached his final sermon, though, only five people showed up! Luther was furious. Afterwards, he wrote a letter, despairing over what seemed like a “failed” reformation.
Was Luther a failure? No. Neither are you. The sower was not a failure because only some of the seed feel on good soil. Rather, he was successful because he was producing fruit. In other words, think about how the sower himself was good soil. He was casting out seed; he was putting it out there for others; he was producing fruit. That’s what good soil does. Also, think again about the sermon as the baby you “deliver.” You are the good ground for this delicate seed to grow in. You nourish it. You bring it to fruition. Then you give it to the world. Yes, you may be proud of it, or you may worry about it, or you may not know what happens to it after you deliver it – but you still produce it, and you do so every week. You bring about new life all the time. That’s amazing!
Preaching is hard. It’s “labor.” You know it. I know it. Luther knew it. The sower in the parable knew it. And, of course, God knows it too. But God also knows that the seed is good, that it does bear good fruit and that you are producing good fruit because of it every week. That’s success. Thank you for bringing new life into this world.
Kurt Lammi is the pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Dayton, Ohio. The author of “Bread for Beggars: An Anthology of Christian Poetry,” he lives in Vandalia, Ohio, with his wife, daughter and cat.