A sermon on the fly

Sunday night in Kenya, I received an invitation to preach the following Sunday morning in Malawi. Now, one of the delights in traveling the world is hearing pastors from other cultures preach, so I was a a bit disappointed. But the pastor of the church I would be attending had been invited to preach in northern Malawi, and he had heard I was coming. So, always ready to tell others about the goodness of God, I replied ‘Yes!’ right away.

I’m travelling light and have no preaching resources nor any sermons with me. That turned out to be a very good thing, as you’ll see. But I also discovered that generally you should be prepared to preach at a moment’s notice, because I’ve been told that in some rural areas of Africa, if you come to a service and are white, then man or woman, you are the preacher that day. One lay woman told me she has one sermon that she always carries with her, just in case.

But here I was, committed to preaching the next Sunday. So, I thought, how to create a sermon on the fly? It usually takes me a long time, but I didn’t have much time. Here’s what worked well for me, and maybe it will work well for you. I think I remembered the basic outline from Haddon Robinson’s book Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Of course, he has a lot more to say than what I’m about to say!

The process of writing a sermon

I prayed first for a topic, which came fairly readily. I simply asked, “What would God have this congregation hear on Sunday?” The answer was to speak about being angry with God.

Next, I asked myself, “What theological truth do they need to know about this topic?” and the answer was, “God cares for you.”

What should be the human response to the truth? “Therefore, you can trust God.”

In which doctrines do we see God’s care for us? I thought of four:

  1. Creation (showing God’s care and good intentions for humanity),
    1. The related promise is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
  2. Eschatology (showing God will ultimately fulfill his intention for humanity),
    1. The related promise is Hebrews 13:5b “God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
  3. Salvation (showing God took decisive action to fulfill his good intentions even before the final completion of history),
    1. The related promise is Mat 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” and
  4. Pneumatology (showing that God is actively at work in you right now),
    1. The related promise is Mat 6:8b “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

I added an opening story and explored the faulty image of God that results from being angry with him. The four doctrines presented a correct picture of God, I added some ideas from Christian spirituality for getting through anger with God, added a closing story to tie it all together, and finished with an altar call.

The sermon came together very quickly (on the 1.5 hour flight to Berundi en route to Rwanda).

View out an airplane window

The view while writing my sermon.

The delivery was good because it was an outline and not the complete ‘script’. And the results were good. People came forward who were blaming God for all kinds of misfortunes, including getting AIDS from someone who didn’t tell her he was HIV positive and others who felt distant from God because of the perceived lack of an answer to prayer.

I left the church (Capital City Pentecostal Church) feeling good about the sermon and how easy it was to pull it together without any resources but my personal thoughts and the leading of the Holy Spirit. I hope this helps if you have trouble putting a sermon together quickly.

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