In an earlier blog I already mentioned that I am currently writing a new book with 366 daily messages. This time I am mainly targeting those who have leadership roles in the church, in one way or another, at all levels. 366 is, of course, quite a large number and obviously I am trying to tap into various sources of inspiration. Last week it suddenly occurred to me to take a look at my sermon archive to get some more ideas. After all, my preaching covers a respectable period of about 55 years. Although my church work has hardly been in pastoring local congregations, I have preached almost every week throughout all those years. During the time I worked in Cameroon the frequency of my preaching declined significantly, but the only period in which I hardly preached at all were the three years I worked in the Mission Institute at Andrews University. There are so many theologians in and around Andrews that I was called upon only very rarely.
For a long time I hadn’t looked at my sermons that date from a somewhat distant past and it was therefore a special sensation to browse through the hundreds of sermons I have written over the years – almost all of them almost verbatim. In the beginning I wrote everything by hand, and it took me quite a lot of effort last week to decipher my hand writing. In many cases the ink has faded and the quality of my handwriting always left a lot to be desired. Those first sermons were mainly held in the northeast of the Netherlands, especially in Leeuwarden, Sneek, Oosterwolde, Groningen, and Bierum. Now that I read some of those sermons again, I felt a bit sorry for the people who had to listen to them!
The years that I worked at the school of Oud Zandbergen, in combination with the directorship of our church publishing house, and also the years that I worked exclusively for the publishing house, were extraordinarily intensive. Nevertheless, I preached almost every week and, as it was customary back then, most of the time twice on every Sabbath. In those days nearly half the congregations had afternoon services, which meant that after the morning service, the minister had to climb another pulpit in the afternoon as well. From my notes it appears that I preached some sermons far too often, because I simply lacked the time to study and make a new sermon.
After I left the Netherlands and worked successively in Africa, the United States and England (at the office of the Trans-European Division) I preached mainly in English, but sometimes also in French–of course often through an interpreter into a local language. Sometimes I used a sermon a dozen of times and a few times even more often, but in very different places. I estimate that I have preached in at least sixty or seventy different countries. During my years in Africa, I had the opportunity to preach in some thirty different African countries, with the unique experience of some twenty evangelistic presentations in Madagascar. On the back of a sermon from the TED period, that I happened to give a closer look, I saw that I had taken it to Budapest (Hungary), Moss (Norway), Tallin (Estonia), St. Albans (UK), Ljublijana (Slovenia), Turku (Finland), Novi Sad (Serbia) Skopje (North Macedonia), Zagreb (Croatia) and the Portuguese-speaking congregation in Brussels. But I was also privileged to preach in many places further from home, as, in various places in the US, Mexico, Pakistan, Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, etc.
Of course, from time to time, there were always sermons on special occasions – anniversaries, graduation ceremonies and, unfortunately, funerals of colleagues and friends. After my return to the Netherlands, and also during my retirement years, the national and international speaking appointment have continued fairly constantly. I hope the quality of my sermons is better now than some twenty or thirty years ago. Nowadays I seldom preach a sermon more than three or four times. Of course, it is up to others to judge whether I have improved over time (or whether my preaching skill is going downhill with age). But for five weeks now it has not been possible to go out preaching. I miss it more than I could have imagined, and I hope that this situation will change again soon and my Sabbaths will be ‘normal’ again.
The advantage of the Corona-time is that I can now hear colleagues more often. who deliver their sermons digitally. I am in fact a little jealous of those who hardly need to consult any notes. When I can go out preaching again it will be, as always, with about ten fully printed A5 sheets stuck in the back of my Bible! I am afraid that will not change.