When I started preaching I used to have a sermon input group to help me study the lectionary readings each week. One week the group was excited about Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. I was careful to incorporate Lincoln’s speech into the lectionary readings where I thought it might be relevant. In my humble opinion, this sermon was my best and most polished sermon to date. It was elegant and poetic, though not on par with Lincoln’s words.
After the service, I went to the social gathering which we called the coffee hour. As I entered the fellowship hall I heard a great deal of quarreling. The Holy Spirit spoke to me: “Are you happy with your sermon? You have reignited the Civil War.”
Over time I began to discover that when people talked about how great a sermon was that I preached then it was not a very good sermon at all. The better sermons caused people to react differently. After worship, people would come up to talk with me about any subject other than the sermon. They just wanted to talk to me. I knew that I had little to do with their need for an extended conversation. I was just a beggar leading another beggar to a spring of fresh water. What we were appreciating was a fresh breath from God.
People do not want or need a sermon. They want to hear from God. The preacher is never God but, if he or she is faithful, and God pours out his grace, the preacher can preach the word:
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)