A mentor of mine used to say that every preacher has just one sermon. It’s true for Billy Graham. For Mother Teresa. For Buechner and Nouwen and Craddock. For Barbara Brown Taylor and Harry Emerson Fosdick. Joel Osteen, too, for that matter. It’s true for me, and it’s true for you. We all have just one sermon. And everything we say, regardless of text (or context), comes back to that one sermon.
It changes over time. It ages with us like the hairs on the side of a scalp. And hopefully, it matures. Sometimes that one message becomes a bit more nuanced. In some cases, it becomes more simplified.
I think about the different ways that message has shown up for me. The little catch phrases I’ve employed at various stages of life.
We’re all on level ground at the foot of the cross.
Every person is made in the image of God.
God is redeeming all things in all moments.
In some form or another, my one sermon has always been of grace. It’s a single droning note in a symphony of surrounding sound. And yeah, perhaps it’s my sermon because that’s precisely what I need. Maybe it’s what I long for. Sit me down on the couch long enough and you’ll probably get to the bottom of it. But it’s been the one constant for me in a sea of ever changing tides and ever moving shores. When falling off the edge of the map, I’ve located myself, time and again, by the horizon deemed grace. Undeserved. Unmitigated. Unfiltered. The strong drink of love divine, crashing through paper kingdoms of my own crafting.
And what I’m learning is that you have to live your one sermon. You have to live it like your life depends on it, because in some way, your life does depend on it. More than most of us ever realize. We’re all living for something… or searching for something… or needing to proclaim in shouts or whispered alleluias, something that will reverberate in an age beyond the one we occupy.
There is one sermon you carry, and it’s beating against the caged door of your life. And it longs to breathe. You may not have selected it. It very well may have chosen you. But you are its steward. You have been entrusted with it. So let it sing. Let it shout. Let it storm the gates of whatever hell may have sunk its talons into the heart you know best.
Maybe it won’t be the same sermon in a year… or in ten years. But chances are, you won’t be the same person. And if you keep waiting for your life to find perfection before you proclaim what needs to be spoken, my hunch is you won’t ever clear your throat.
So what if you’re wrong? It won’t be the first time. Go ahead and let your life speak. And if given the choice, walk on the same side of the street with grace.