The Great Sermon
By Bro Jeff Barron, Pastor Edgewood MBC, Danville, Georgia
Presented at the Rocky Mountain Missionary Baptist Association Meeting hosted by Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, Lakewood, CO on August 10, 2012.
I have been preaching since April 3, 1971, and I don’t do it very well, but I’m trying and still learning. One of these days, I’m going to get it right and fall over dead. With that in mind, I’m not going to try to get it right today! What I do want to share with you is everything that I have learned in the past 41 years. I sincerely offer my apologies in advance.
I was in my pastor’s study one afternoon and, with his permission, was looking through his sermon outlines. My pastor, Brother Fay Wersky, was a remarkable man, and I loved him dearly. He would always title his sermons before he wrote them, and I found one that I really liked and started laughing. I asked, “Brother Wersky, is this the best you can do?” He said, “What?” I said, “You have this sermon titled Things I Have Learned.” The rest of the page was blank. Let’s say that it did not inspire a lot of confidence.
I’ve forgotten a lot over the years. I’ve changed a few things. I’m not anywhere near as smart as I was when I was 18. I’m not even as smart as I was when I was 25. I can’t imagine what next year will be like. I want to share with you a few things that may seem a little random. Meanwhile, I hesitate to give you the title of this message, but I titled it in a way that has nothing to do with what we are about to embark on. Trust me. It’s entitled The Great Sermon. I’ve been looking for the great sermon.
Some of you know a dear brother and friend of mine, Brother Keith Simmons. He’s a man whose wisdom I admire and respect, and he and I have been discussing for the past few years what a great sermon is. We were talking one day, and he said, “I just don’t hear any great preaching anymore” (I had preached that morning). I asked him, “Brother Simmons, what is a great sermon?”
I’ve literally preached a few thousand sermons, and I can look back on the good ones. There have been three that I thought were pretty good. I preached in Roseville, California about 35 years ago or so, and my best friend approached me after the service and said, “Brother Jeff, that was the worst sermon I’ve ever heard you preach.” He was right. It was awful, but I learned something very precious that night. There were five saved. “Way to go, Brother Jeff!” Excuse me? Did you not hear me? I didn’t save anybody.
I remember my first day at CMBI. A man stood up, gave his pastor’s name (let’s say his pastor’s name was Brother Jeffery Barron), and said, “I was saved and baptized by Brother Jeffery Barron!” That boy’s in trouble! He needs to be saved, and he needs scriptural baptism!
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat is so small
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had a plaque on his desk in the Oval Office that was given to him by Admiral Hyman Rickover. It was a prayer by the Breton Fisherman. I would like us to really grip that prayer today and apply it to ourselves and to this meeting. It read, “Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”
To the world, we are so unimportant, and this meeting has no value. However, if the Pope were here and sneezed, it would be on the front page of the Denver Post in the morning. I could fall down and break my neck, and it would not make the news. We are not important to the world. Sometimes, we are not as important as we could be to each other. Are we important at all to anybody that matters?
Jesus said, “Men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely” (Matthew 5:11). Have you ever had somebody talk ugly about you in your community or your church? Have you noticed that they always lie? That always bothered me, but not for the reasons you might think. There are a lot of bad things you could say about me without having to lie about it. But those rascals always lie!
If you are feeling all picked on, go back and look at the prophets. They killed every one of them (Matthew 5:12). “Hey, I brought you great news from God.” “Oh, yeah, the great news is that we’re chopping your head off, feeding you to the dogs, or stoning you to death. We’re not going to put up with your stuff.” That’s why we are Baptists. We’ve learned to be humble so that we can live long lives. We don’t want to make anyone mad. “What sin did you preach on this morning, preacher?”
Ye Are the Salt of the Earth
Jesus declared, “Ye are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). I love the phrase “salt of the earth,” but for probably all the wrong reasons just like the rest of us. Do you like The Andy Griffith Show? I love The Andy Griffith Show and have every episode on DVD. Do you know why I love The Andy Griffith Show? Aunt Bee. Do you know why I love Aunt Bee? Because she’s just the salt of the earth! Do you know what it means when you say it that way? Nothing! She’s this sweet old lady who makes pies and kerosene cucumbers. How does Aunt Bee get to be the salt of the earth based on the words of Jesus? She doesn’t. Jesus said, “Ye are the salt of the earth.” It’s not a warm fuzzy feeling that you embrace and walk around with. It’s a calling to do a work. In other words, get out there and salt the earth!
Jesus declared, “Ye are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13). Let your light shine. Do you know what some people think that means? “Preacher, get out there and build up your reputation in the community. Make sure everybody knows who you are. Make sure they like you and will come warm the pews at your church and give you lots of money. Don’t make them mad. Don’t hurt their feelings. Don’t tell them that they’re dirty, rotten, stinkin’ sinners that need to be saved and then be faithful in the service of the Lord. Just tell them to be happy and give them some tips on being successful in business and to do the best that they can. They’ll love you, give you money, and stay right there with you.” That’s why we’ve got so many churches full of lost people. We’re more concerned about getting their feelings hurt than their lives dramatically changing.
What’s more important? Playing a sport in the Olympics or serving the Christ that we all love? Serving the Christ is more important, of course. How many of us put up as much effort as an Olympic athlete for a temporal crown as for an everlasting blessing that we can enjoy in eternity? I’m not judging. I’m confessing. “Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”
What Kind of a Peace Do We Seek?
In his commencement address at American University in Washington on June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy asked, “What kind of a peace do we seek?”
Do you remember the Camp David Accords? The Camp David Accords were signed by Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on September 17, 1978 following 12 days of secret negotiations at Camp David. What changed? Did they attain peace? No. They’re still fighting.
Do you remember the hippies? I wasn’t one. They proclaimed, “Give peace a chance!”
Do we know what peace is? “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 1:18). Some people think this verse means, “Me and God are going to sit down and negotiate this thing.” No, it doesn’t work like that. Do you want peace? You seek His formula, His recipe, His way, and He will show you peace. Let’s consider a scenario where you tell God that you’re going to do it your way. Let’s compare that to what it would be like telling your Daddy you’re going to do things your way. If he was any good, he’d slap you down and say, “If you want to be my kid and have peace in my house, you’ll do it my way.” We are not perfect, and we don’t have perfect children. We are not perfect children of His, and we can’t be, but we can have peace. And that peace is attainable. It is not an absence of conflict. It is not a mutual understanding. It is not agreeing to disagree. It is putting our hands on the same plow and pushing straight down the same row. It’s being in harmony and lockstep with the Lord. His footsteps are a lamp unto my feet. I walk in the path that Jesus walked. Narrow is the way that leads unto life. That’s the solution and the goal when we seek peace.
What kind of a peace do we seek? We seek a peace that is only attainable when all points of our lives are in harmony with our Creator.
In 1776, Thomas Paine said, “I prefer peace. But if trouble must come, let it come in my time, so that my children can live in peace.”
Children (all of us are children by the way), our peace is built on the efforts, the labors, and the backs of those who have gone before us. Children who are coming along, peace that is available for you to enjoy is built on the backs of the soldiers that are gathered for service today all over the world. I don’t say “soldiers” in the military sense, but soldiers of the cross. These soldiers are seeking everlasting peace.
28 I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.
29 His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb.
30 Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God.
31 Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe?
32 Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
I am greatly comforted by the fact that we “shall have tribulation” and not mayhem. This is a tough life! I often said to my youngest son, Jonathan, “Son, life is tough and short.” All three of my babies have found out that it is. “Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”
Rule of Law / Rule of Word…Not Rule of Man
In the United States, we have a thing called the rule of law. In other words, we are a country governed by laws, and this is very important. We are not governed by people. We are governed by laws. We don’t seek justice in people. We seek justice in the law. What’s the difference? If you are governed by law, then you have a stated case, a stated purpose, and a direction to go. If you are governed by people, then you are at their whim. “Off with his head!” or “Double his taxes!”
In thinking about the rule of law, I started looking at our relationship with the Lord. As pastors and preachers, it soothes our egos to have people gaze at us with trust and hang on our every word. We do them no service if we, rather than the Word, are their reference point. If they look at us for their understanding and inspiration, we have lost the battle. The law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. We are simply messengers bringing those who will listen to us to the Word. Not to our vision, interpretation, charm, and personality, but to the Word.
John Wooden, a great basketball coach, once said, “The worst things you can do for the ones you love are the things they could and should do for themselves.” Folks, we need to do our own study and encourage our people to do so. We need to see them grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord (Ephesians 4:13, 2 Peter 1:2-8). We are called to preach the Word. Don’t argue the point. Preach the Word!
36 But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.
37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.
38 And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.
39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.
41 I receive not honour from men.
42 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.
43 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.
44 How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?
45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.
46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
Understand something about Jesus that made him different from Paul, Peter, me, or you. He was the Christ. He was the Word. Everything he said was the Word. To be able to be in his presence in that day and touch him and handle him and hold him, you held the very Word of God. We haven’t had that since he went away other than by the imparting of the Holy Spirit giving access to understand his Word.
10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.
11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
12 Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.
John wrote, “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son” (1 John 5:9). Let’s create a scenario. Let’s assume that I am capable of telling you a perfect truth, and you received it. It’s not yours and won’t do you any good until you use what I gave you, go to the Word, and get it yourself.
“America needs to turn back to God!” I don’t want to upset anybody, but you won’t ever hear me say that. “We’re a Christian nation!” You won’t hear me say that. I belong to a Christian nation. It is His kingdom. Like Abraham, I am looking “for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
I was at the ABA meeting about 9 or 10 years ago and was in the booth area. I walked by a travel agent who was trying to set up trips to the “Holy Land.” He called me over and said, “Let me show you what we’ve got.” I said, “Thank you, but I’m really not interested.” He insisted, “Sir, you cannot preach the Word of God unless you’ve walked where Jesus walked.” I said, “Let me tell you something. Jesus hadn’t been there in a long time. All that dirt from over there has probably blown over here by now, so I may already be walking where Jesus has walked. I don’t need to go over there and look at those crazy monuments that you’ve set up out of phony junk to understand my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’ve got the Word!”
I believe that America would be a wonderful place for all of God’s people to join together and work for the cause of Christ. I’m not arguing that. However, when we look at the world and the ills of it, the things that we see in the movies, in the news, on television, and in our own families, they just break our hearts.
I remember 9/11. I was in Phoenix City, Alabama. I remember all of the representatives and senators praying on the steps of the capitol building. I remember how long the patriotism and the religious fervor lasted. I was asked to speak about 9/11 at a meeting in Columbus, Georgia, and a colonel was there from Fort Benning. While I was speaking, I turned to the colonel and asked, “Colonel, did your sense of patriotism or faith in God change on 9/11?” He replied, “No, sir, it did NOT!” Mine didn’t either. I did not love my country or my Lord more because of what some idiots did with airplanes. We cannot be event driven. We need to remember that there is “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10), and we need to press toward that. “Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”
I have imposed on your good graces. I have stepped on rocky ground. I have traveled some slippery slopes.
Now, I want to leave you with one final message from the Word of God.
22 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
23 Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them,
24 The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:
25 The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
26 The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
27 And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.
“Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”