I was 15 or 16, I recall, when I tried to preach my first sermon. The very effort was questionable from the beginning because I suffered terribly from stage fright and had panic attacks even giving an oral report in school.
When my pastor, Rev. Winford R. Floyd, asked me to give the sermon at our church on Youth Sunday I agreed but was as nervous as a tightrope walker in a windstorm. Pastor Floyd suggested I find someone else’s sermon and adapt it, which I did. It was a little message I found in a pamphlet. Under Rev. Floyd’s mentoring, I prepared as best I could and typed up my notes. He showed me how to fold them and lay them on the pulpit just so and suggested ways to go about the process of giving a sermon. But when time came, I stood up, froze, bungled my opening paragraphs, and finished my half-hour sermon in about five minutes. I collapsed in the chair, and Mr. Floyd got up, said it was a wonderful message, picked up my theme, and finished out the hour.
I’ve since read the biographies of many preachers, and I always pay attention to any description of their first sermons. The attempts are usually pretty rough. Most preachers don’t want to be reminded of their first tries at preaching. Just as in any other profession or with any other skill, it takes time and practice to develop proficiency. Even then, the results aren’t guaranteed. I go home most Sundays even now and pray the same prayer: “Lord, I can’t preach a lick, but I keep trying my darnedest.”
Yet there once was a remarkable young man who, at age thirty, hung up His carpenter’s apron, laid down His hammer, trudged from His hometown, and found a spot on a hillside where He gathered a crowd and began to preach. And His first recorded message was the greatest sermon the world had ever heard. The preacher, of course, was Jesus of Nazareth; and His first recorded sermon was the Sermon on the Mount.
The existence of this homiletical masterpiece tells us that Jesus was more than a carpenter, more than a preacher, and more than a mere man. From His first utterance, He spoke as if He Himself were the author and interpreter of Scripture. His words and their tone amazed the crowds, and His words still astound us today. In the Sermon on the Mount we have a set of ethics that has never been bettered, a set of images that have never been forgotten, and a set of instructions that are as relevant today as when first spoken.
You’re invited to study the Sermon on the Mount along with us each week this fall in our pulpit times at The Donelson Fellowship. You can also follow online at the sermon tab at www.donelson.org/sermons using our webcasts, podcasts, and transcripts.