I have learned there are three important rules for preachers: stand
up, speak up and sit down. Or as George Burns puts it: A good sermon
should have a good beginning and a good ending, and they should
be as close together as possible.
There are some good stories about preachers and sermons to share
for Holy Humor Sunday.
Story #1: Having been bored witless by the world's most boring
preacher, Jack came out of church before the preacher had finished
his sermon. Outside he met a friend who asked, "Has he finished,
then?" His friend replied, "Oh yes, he's finished, but
he won't stop!"
Story #2: A pastor "gave one of the world's shortest sermons
on Holy Humor Sunday. He announced that the focus of his talk would
be on sin. 'Don't do it,' he said from the pulpit. 'Amen.' Then
he sat down."
Story #3: It was the new pastor’s first church, and the first
month he was there he officiated eight memorial services. Consequently,
he had limited time for Sunday morning sermon preparation. So he
simply repeated that first Sunday’s sermon the next three
Sundays. The church board complained to the District Minister. “What
should we do? This new pastor has used the same sermon four times
in a row!” The District Minister was surprised, but after
a moment asked them what the sermon was about. The members puzzled
over this simple question. They really couldn’t remember.
The District Minister declared, “Then let him use it one more
Story #4: An elderly priest, who had spent 50 years preaching
in parish missions, dreamed one night he arrived at the pearly gates.
When Peter saw it was Father Clyde, he said, “I’m sorry,
but you can’t come in yet. You’ll have to spend three
months in Purgatory.” “But why?” asked the priest.
“I have spent my whole life preaching all over Australia!”
“Be calm, Father,” Peter said. “You won’t
have to work. We have a comfortable chair for you in a comfortable
room. You won’t have to do anything except listen to your
own sermons day and night. We taped all the sermons you preached
at those missions.” The priest woke up in a sweat!
“There was another remarkable young man who, at age thirty,
hung up his carpenter’s apron, laid down his hammer, trudged
from his hometown, and found a spot on a hillside where he gathered
a crowd and began to preach.” His first recorded sermon was
a homiletic masterpiece called the Sermon on the Mount, which gave
us a set of ethics, images and instructions that are still relevant
today. From the first, he spoke as if he were author and interpreter
of Scripture. That man, of course, was Jesus.
Acts 2 gives us another first sermon -- by none other than Peter.
When you think of it, Peter seems totally unqualified to preach.
He frequently got thinking and talking in the wrong order. He was
the first to identify Jesus as the Messiah, but then rebuked Jesus
for saying he would be put to death in Jerusalem during Passover.
When witnessing the transfiguration, Peter wanted to form a building
committee. Jesus gave him a chance to walk on water, but Peter lost
faith and began sinking. In the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus
needed him, he fell asleep. When Jesus chose to go peacefully with
his captors, Peter cut off a soldier’s ear. And finally, instead
of defending Jesus during the trial, he denied he knew him -- three
Although Peter was a bumbling, impetuous disciple before his first
sermon, he had learned the truth about Jesus the hard way. No one
knew better than he that Jesus could forgive and restore a betrayer.
He had experienced something no theological degree could match.
On the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit came with wind and fire,
and people of different nations and languages spoke and understood
each other, the Holy Spirit made a preacher out of Peter. It was
like everything he experienced up till then made sense and he felt
an urgency to explain the truth to everyone.
There are parts of Peter’s sermon that make me uneasy, like
accusing his Jewish audience that “you killed Jesus.”
That’s like those who accuse all Muslims of being terrorists!
“Pentecost” is actually a Greek name for the Hebrew
festival known as the Feast of Weeks. The festival occurs fifty
days after Passover and celebrates the end of the grain harvest.
Pentecost was one of the pilgrimage festivals, so devout Jews from
many nations came from as far as 1000 miles. Thus many of the Jews
to whom Peter spoke had not been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life
and death. They may never have heard of Jesus of Nazareth, so why
should they be accused? But aside from that, Peter’s sermon
encapsulates the heart of the gospel.
People in the streets tried to make sense of the eerie wind and
fire and mixed-up languages. “These people must be drunk,”
they said. Peter responded, standing with the eleven. ““All
of you, listen up! This Jesus, whom you crucified, is more than
just a name. He is more than a prophet and a good man. He is the
Messiah, the Holy One proclaimed by David and our other prophets.
This is the Savior for whom we have been waiting for generations.
Every single one of you is a witness to this truth. Whether you
saw Jesus with your own eyes or are now hearing the good news for
the very first time, you are a witness to what I am telling you
In that case, we are witnesses, too! Peter is saying, Jesus is
more than David or a prophet. He is more than a name. He is the
Messiah we have been waiting for. He was rejected, killed and buried,
but now, having risen from the dead, he returned to his Father and
the Holy Spirit has come.
That begins to sound like a creed! This set of beliefs -- Jesus
crucified, died, buried, resurrected and now exalted -- form one
of the earliest creeds of the church. While the Church of the Brethren
makes a point of having no creed but the New Testament, it’s
all there, and Peter’s sermon reminds us that Christ is Lord.
Something happened to Peter at Pentecost. Jesus became more to
him than a Messiah who would save the Jews from the Romans. The
Holy Spirit gave him understanding and a passion to share what he
knew with the Pentecost crowd. He exalted Jesus as the Christ, the
name given to Jesus after the resurrection. The crowd needed to
know the truth about Christ.
The response to Peter’s first sermon was amazing. Verses 37-42
tell it this way: