What to preach on next?
Have you ever found yourself stumped when it comes to figuring out what you should be sharing in your next sermon, or maybe whole sermon series? You trawl through what you have preached on in the past or you try to think of issues that may be impacting the life of the church at the moment. “What can I share that might make a difference?”
I was recently sharing with a group of pastors and I reflected on that familiar story of the feeding of the five thousand. It is one of those stories that is picked up by all four gospel writers. But in this story, there is something that seems to be highlighted more clearly in Matthew than any of the other gospels.
After the disciples had brought the five loaves and two fish to Jesus, he looked up to heaven and gave thanks and broke the loaves. But then Matthew says, “then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people” (Matt 14:20). Here, in the performance of this great miracle, Jesus wanted his disciples to share in the miracle. As he broke the loaves and fish, he first gave it to his disciples who then had the responsibility of giving it to the people.
As I read this story, I am reminded of the fact that, as pastors, we have nothing to pass on to our people apart from that which we have first received from Jesus. I love the way that Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians says, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Unless we have first received something of truth and life from the Lord, we really have nothing to share.
But what is it that we share? On the one hand, we can do all our exegesis so thoroughly, we can nail the passage we are speaking from, and yet it can still be little more than a lifeless lecture. But what we share must be shared out of our own personal experience and engagement with the truth. John puts it so beautifully in 1 John when he says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim to you concerning the Word of life” (1 Jh 1:1). John was simply saying, we share out of the reality of our own encounter with the truth that has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. And, can I say, that when our preaching comes from that place, we can be well assured that God will use it to powerfully impact the lives of others.
But there is just one last thought I wanted to reflect on. I wonder how many times the disciples had to go back to Jesus to receive a fresh supply as they shared in the feeding of this crowd. In a similar fashion, if we are going to continue to feed God’s sheep, we are going to have to go back to him again and again – to receive the life-transforming word which will satisfy the spiritual hunger of those to whom we minister. You know, the amazing thing is that, as we do, we have the privilege of becoming sharers in the miracle that takes place every time a life is touched and transformed by the truth of God’s world. What a privileged role we have.