the sermon that was never heard…

I had a dream last night. So strong in its witness, I needed to “get it down” on paper this morning. Perhaps in doing so, it will get down to a deeper place inside of me so that I might more fully live it outside of me.

The sermon that was never heard.

Allow me to explain. In May of 2016 my father was scheduled to preach at the Garner UMC. There was nothing particularly unusual about this event. Dad was often called upon to “fill the pulpit” on occasions when the pastor wasn’t available. As a professor of preaching at Asbury Seminary for over thirty years, and as a pastor of several congregations in the last fifty years, my dad has always been a natural choice for such occasions. His spiritual journey, as well as his giftedness in and eloquence for telling a story, have allowed him notable stages from which to deliver God’s message. But no stage was more glorious and important to my father than one holding a wooden pulpit overlooking an audience of Sunday morning seekers. Accordingly, dad rarely refused an opportunity to fill a pulpit.

I had planned to make the two hour trip to Garner to hear my father speak that Sunday. My mother texted me early in the morning to tell me not to come, that dad wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to preach. Later that day, when pressed for more details, dad revealed that he was having trouble reading his sermon notes, that his thoughts were jumbled up inside of him. And while he didn’t have any manifestations of a physical illness, he knew something was wrong. So did we. Thus began the unraveling of the diagnosable mystery known as a stroke.

For the last nineteen months, we’ve walked with dad through this period of redirection. The adjustments have been numerous. And while dad’s aphasia has altered his daily routine, it hasn’t changed his heart or his passion for telling the story. Certainly, the “stage” has changed; they’re smaller now, more intimate. His words are fewer and, sometimes, aren’t delivered as eloquently as he would like. But the warmth is there, the smile, the laughter, the love … always the love from dad. And through it all, we’re all learning to make peace with…

The sermon that was never heard.

The words that were never spoken that Sunday morning. The “text” that (some would say) would be my father’s final declaration from the pulpit. And this morning, after tossing and tumbling all night long, after mulling over what my father’s final benediction might have been from the pulpit that morning in Garner, I have decided that God is still writing that sermon. That after nineteen months of altered steps and interrupted dialogue, the sermon that was never heard is still preaching its witness.

And therein, folks, lives and breathes the greatest story ever told. When the curtains are drawn, the script is lost, when the words won’t come, and the audience has departed, what remains is the sacred echo – the deafening whispers of the sermon that was never heard.  

Like my father, perhaps even like you, I have a few more stories I’d like to share, a few more moments of dialogue I’d like to give to the world. But I am no longer convinced that these are the “sermons” that God will most thoroughly use to live and give his witness. What I am growing convinced of, however, is that…

Not every sermon needs a stage.

Not every manuscript needs eloquence.

Not every word needs to be spoken.

Instead, our “sermons” just need to be lived in the shadow of Almighty God. With warmth. With smiles. With laughter. With love … always the love.

If we can get to that place of settled peace, friends, then the sermon that was never heard surely will be boldly proclaimed with a depth and with a clarity that may not come otherwise. So…

Thank you, Daddy, for teaching me how to live with an unwritten, unspoken, and unfinished script.

And thank you, God, for making it count eternally. As always, 

Peace for the journey,

13 Responses to the sermon that was never heard…

  1. It’s difficult to put into a only a few words what this post means to me. I’m passing it on to my 91 year old dad. Almost every day he works on a sermon. He uses white out to correct the manuscripted notes. He practices aloud, repeating words for just the right emphasis. I made copies of a Christmas letter for him to send for friends in which he says that he spends part of his days writing sermons that will never be given! Makes me sad in several ways, but mostly inspired (as I know YOU are by YOUR preciou father’s diligence & commitment).

    • Love to the Rogers’ clan at Christmas and always. May the chapter ahead of you and the one you’re writing now be laced with grace from above! Shalom.

  2. Oh Elaine, what a powerful post. Thank you for sharing it. It is true, sometimes God uses just the warmth, and the passion we have in a different way.

    • Thank you, Iris. I am touched that my family story in some way blesses yours. Merry Christmas, friend.

  3. Thank you for giving sound to your dad’s “barbaric yawp” when he could not. I am grateful for the privilege of hearing the Story from such a great storyteller. I will always treasure the time in your Dad’s classroom. Please tell him, from a former student, “O Captain, my Captain!”

    • I will, Matthew! You are so kind to leave a comment and a remembrance. Dad remembers you as well. Peace to you this Christmas.

  4. I love hearing about this Elaine! And I agree…..his sermon is still in the working! What a blessing it always is to hear you talk about your father and mother and the sweet relationship you have with them! That’s something that not everyone has in their life. Thank you for sharing this.

    Merry Christmas!

    Marilyn

    • We are so blessed to have one another! I am so glad they’ll be with us this Christmas. Each day and each memory made is close to my heart. Merry Christmas, friend. You are loved.

  5. Not every sermon needs a stage. Not every manuscript needs eloquence. Not every word needs to be spoken. Instead our sermons just need to be lived in the shadow of Almighty God…

    Your words always speak to me, dear Elaine. I do appreciate reading this post so beautifully expressed. You are favored to have been raised by a dad like yours (and so am I, by my own father, not a preacher man, but he also lived sermons that only a few “heard” – cause he was a man of few words, but his life was a glorious sermon all by itself.) Much love to you dear friend.

    Lidia

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