by Alastair Sterne
January 3, 2016
4 min read
You all know it. I talk with my hands. You see it every Sunday when we gather to celebrate the beauty of Jesus. The sermon plays a central part in our service. Leading up to every Sunday, somebody pours a lot of energy and time into studying the Scriptures, crafting a sermon, and laying it before God and our community. It’s an art really. Over the year our team delivers 51 sermons (taking the last Sunday off). Some weeks stand out as special in terms of the impact they have, how memorable they are to people, or simply how fun they are to preach. Of these 51 Sundays, I preached 34 of them. That’s a lot of hand talking! Roger Revell, Alida Oegema, Mike Chase, Shannon Parrott, Steve Mulder, Bishop Trevor, and Bishop Leung all preached too (with excellence I might add!).
When it comes to the sermons I personally delivered in 2015, hands down my favourite series was Jonah. It was the first time I preached through an entire book alone (without other preachers). Surprisingly, however, none of my sermons in Jonah made it into my 5 favorite sermons that I preached in 2015. There’s no rhyme or reason to this selection. It’s a mix of my personal preference and feedback I’ve received. So here we go:
The last sermon I preached in 2015 was in our Advent series, Light Into Darkness. I received a lot of encouraging feedback. Several people noted that it was more “philosophical” than usual (which it was). Honestly, this feedback humoured me a little. I don’t consider myself a philosopher, but I had fun digging into the nature of presuppositions, belief and understanding. In preparation for this sermon, I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on St. Anslem’s quote, “I do not understand in order to believe, I believe in order to understand.”
I love, love, love preaching on Easter. If I could only preach once a year, and if I had a say when, it would be easter. In 2015 we approached Easter from the perspective of Thomas. What I find fascinating about Thomas is how certain he is about what he needs to believe. He’s slow to believe (which I appreciate). But when Jesus finally appears to him, what Thomas ends up needing to believe is different than what he thought. This was my own experience too. I kept thinking that I needed some transcendent spiritual encounter with Jesus before I could believe, but it turned out I simply needed a good ol’ crisis in my life.
Next to Easter, Pentecost is my favourite time to preach. Mostly because you get to tackle pretty wild passages like Acts 2. It doesn’t matter what sermon series we’re in, we put it aside for Pentecost. I read a quote by Darryl Johnson a few years back, and it has stuck with me. Darryl said, “I know that the church of Jesus Christ in the West will have finally come to understand the fullness of the gospel when Pentecost is as big a celebration as Christmas and Easter.” In this sermon I had a lot of fun exploring the connections between Babel and Acts 2. I was also provided with the time and space to consider the role of speaking in tongues, and to reflect on how my own experience with this gift has grown me as a follower of Christ.
I did not plan the timing of this sermon. It comes from our series in the gospel of Mark. The passage, Mark 3:7-20, couldn’t have been timed any better: it landed on our two year anniversary. When Jesus calls the Apostles, he doesn’t call them into an institution. He calls them to become a movement. I couldn’t have thought of a better Word for our community as we celebrated our anniversary (I was personally reminded just how much the Spirit is involved in all our pre-planning).
Hands down, this was my favourite sermon in 2015. It’s not my favourite because it was particularly easy to preach. But it’s my favourite because I was allowed to embody the values of our community. In this sermon I discussed my own struggle with depression, and talked about how God has used even the weakest area of my life for his good. I have been overwhelmed by how gracious our community has been to me in my own struggles. I have also been overwhelmed with how God has used my openness about my struggles to bring healing into other people’s lives too.