As I reflect back over my dad’s 40 years of active service as a Presbyterian minister, it is incredible to me to think that he wrote and delivered over 2,000 sermons. I have no idea if he had “reruns” or reworked earlier sermons with new insight, but that is just amazing that each week, he authored a spiritual message to convey to the congregation every Sunday morning. I have been publishing a blog post every Sunday morning for just over two years and while at times it has been challenging to keep up with everything going on in my life, my efforts pale in comparison to my dad’s.
I obviously heard a lot of these sermons growing up. At least all the way through high school as well as frequently during college, you would find me sitting in a pew with my mom listening to his messages. For to miss church, we had to be deathly ill.
Looking through my dad’s Bible recently got me thinking about some of those sermons as I found underlined Bible passages and wondered what sermon this notation might have inspired.
Sometime after Dad died, my sister gave me a book of 32 of his typed sermons. I recently found that on my bookcase when I was perusing the bookshelves looking for another book. I had completely forgotten I had it.
Scanning the list of titles, annotated with the Bible passage upon which the topic was based, I didn’t know if this represented his top 32 sermons or just those that had been found among his papers when we were cleaning out after his death.
Midway down the table of contents, I ran across a title I distinctly remembered, “Tapped by Mistake”—a memory vivid for me because I was there when my dad was tapped by mistake.
The beginning of his sermon set the stage for what happened. It was in the summer of 1964 at Camp Kiroli Boy Scout Camp in West Monroe, Louisiana. I don’t really know why we were there because neither my brother nor I was old enough for Boy Scouts. But I know scouts from our church had been there so it must have been one of my dad’s “church duties” to attend the closing ceremony of summer camp.
When it came time to select the candidates for the “Order of the Arrow,” warriors dressed in Indian garb began walking through the crowd. I distinctly remember the warriors coming close to us and then stopping next to us. From behind my dad, one of the warriors brought a heavy hand down on his shoulder and commanded him to rise. He did so obediently.
As he followed the warriors down to the stage, my dad wondered what he had done to deserve such an honor, an honor for which he couldn’t come up with a reason. Moments later, my dad was relieved to see that the assistant scout master from our church’s troop, who had been sitting next to my dad, was also selected. As all the selected candidates made their way out of the fire ring to begin their Ordeal, the chief pulled my dad from the line and admitted he had made a mistake in selecting him. With relief, my dad returned to us as the camp program closed.
While I vividly remembered this event and my dad giving a sermon on it, I failed to recall beyond this story what the sermon was about. The message my dad interwove with this real life event was how Jesus selected the twelve disciples, a group of unlikely candidates. While my dad had been tapped by mistake, my dad proclaimed these twelve, no matter how undeserving they might have seemed at the time, were no mistake.
Throughout the sermon, Dad returned to his experience that night sharing details that correlated to the Biblical story. As I read, I focused hard to be sure that I grasped the three main points of the sermon for I remember my dad saying that all good sermons made three main points. Sure enough, he did.
After reading the sermon, I realized how fortunate I was to have these written words. So often in hearing his sermons, my mind would wander, and I would miss one of the main points of the sermon. With these typed sermons, I can now go back and reread to ensure I get the full intent of his message.
Reading this one sermon made me realize that I would have to go back and read all of the sermons in the book. While this first one I immediately recognized by its title, none of the others seemed familiar. But I suspect as I read them, all of a sudden a phrase or sentence will strike a memory chord that will take me back to that pew where I heard my dad utter those words. And for a moment, I’ll happily picture my dad, alive again, speaking those words as I reflect on the message he gave so many years ago, and now renewed through the reading of his missive.