While last Tuesday the outside temperature was steadily increasing, my study remained reasonably cool—cool enough to work on a new sermon. For a few weeks I had been thinking of a sermon about the foolishness of the newly converted Christians in Galatia, who allowed themselves to be confused by people who had come from elsewhere, telling them that we as humans have to do our part in ensuring that we will be saved, and that it is just too easy to simply expect that Christ will take care of everything. Paul did not beat about the bush in his approach to the Galatians. They had abandoned the gospel of sola gratia with their acceptance of the message that you cannot be saved unless you stick to certain rules. This legalistic approach continues to present a great danger to Christians of today—most definitely including Adventist Christians..
So, the sermon for my next preaching appointment is ready. Sometimes I preach a sermon just once. When I sense that the message has not ‘landed’ the sermon disappears in the digital rubbish bin. But when I sense that the sermon ‘did’ something for the listeners, I tend to preach the sermon a number of times in different churches, hoping that there are no members who move between different churches and then might have to listen to a sermon they already heard.
Working on my sermon I was suddenly reminded of a little rhyme that I saw written on a wall in the small museum at Schokland. Schokland used to be a small island in the Zuiderzee, the body of water in the center of the Netherlands, that has now for a large part been made into dry land. So, presently, Schokland is a small elevated area surrounded by reclaimed land. The same is true for Urk, that also was an island before the land around it was reclaimed from the water. The little four-line rhyme is about a pastor who lived in Urk, but had accepted a preaching assignment in Schokland. As he made the journey by boat, the sea was so rough, that he completely forgot the text he had planned to preach about!
In the early nineteenth century it must have been quite an adventure to travel from Urk to Schokland for a preaching appointment. As the crow flies it was no more than 10 or 12 kilometers, but in those days the only way to get there was by boat. The Zuiderzee could be quite treacherous, which made the journey sometimes even a bit perilous. This is what the pastor from Urk had experienced. He had been so worried about the weather that he had totally forgotten the text and the theme he had planned to preach about. Apparently, he had the gift of being able to preach without any notes. But in his anxiety he had fotgotten what he was to preach about.
I do not have the gift of being able to preach without notes. I must have very full notes in front of me and many of my sermons are written out almost verbatim. This always results in about nine to ten sheets of A5 paper. I have never completely forgotten my sermon notes and left them at home. But it once happened to me that I was already on the podium of the church where I was to preach when, as the hymn just before the sermon was sung, I realized that my notes were still in my car. Fortunately, the car was parked right in front of the church and I was able to sneak away and get my notes just before the last lines of the final stanza of the hymn was sung. (The audience probably thought that I had to make an emergency sanitary stop.) This has never happened again. Ever since I check and double-check whether my sermon notes are safely stuck in my Bible.
It happened once that my small stack of A5 -format notes had somehow shifted and were no longer in the right order. As I was preaching I had to re-arrange the order of the sheets. After that unpleasant experience I have always been careful to number my sheets of notes. You can be sure that the ten A5 sheets with my notes of the Galatians-sermon are carefully numbered from one to ten!