In his memoir Preacher, Eugene Peterson recounts a conversation with his son.
“Dad, novelists only write one book. They find their voice, their book, and write it over and over. William Faulkner wrote one book. Charles Dickens wrote one book. Anne Tyler wrote one book. Ernest Hemingway wrote one book. Willa Cather wrote one book.”
A few days later, he said, “Remember what I said about novelists only writing one book? You only preach one sermon.”
Peterson was shocked. “I don’t repeat myself in the pulpit. I work hard on these sermons. Every week is new, the world changes, the lives of these people are changing constantly. And each sermon is new, these scriptures personalized into their language and circumstances.”
His son dropped the subject.
A bit later, Peterson preached with his son present. “Well, Dad, that was your sermon. I’ve been listening to that sermon all my life. Your one sermon, your signature sermon.”
This time Peterson remained silent.
“I know what you’re going to blog about,” a friend of mine said to me last month. “You’re going to blog about how God does extraordinary things through the ordinary.”
Inwardly, I protested. But then I got thinking.
In How to Grow, I write about how God uses simple, often overlooked habits to grow us into maturity.
In Preach Well, I write about how God uses ordinary preachers to accomplish his extraordinary purposes. I love a recent tweet I read, arguing that the greatest expositor today is an ordinary, unknown pastor:
God uses the ordinary. As I say near the end of How to Grow:
Your life matters. Your ordinary, messy, mistake-filled life with dirty dishes, unfolded laundry, and unpaid bills can make a difference not just in this generation but in generations to come.
We tend to think that God uses those who are more gifted or godly. The reality: God uses people humble enough to say, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1 CSB)…
We don’t need you to be perfect. We just need you to allow us to follow you as you follow Jesus. It’s a strategy that’s simple and effective. The results will ripple through generations.
I guess I’d have to say it’s my one sermon: God often hides in the ordinary. He uses ordinary habits, ordinary people, ordinary pastors, ordinary churches. We eat ordinary grape juice or wine and bread to remember an extraordinary salvation. God occasionally shows up in the spectacular, but mostly he seems to hide out in people, places, and actions that don’t look like much.
It’s good news for most of us, since so many of us are ordinary people attending ordinary churches. Our lives are rich territory for God to show up.
God loves to surprise us. We like to make big noises when we show up. God mostly seems to show up unnoticed where we don’t expect. He seems to prefer people we wouldn’t pick, giving grace we don’t think is deserved.
Finding Your Sermon
I hope I beat more drums than this one, but it’s one I beat a lot. And that’s okay.
Peterson knew that his son had been looking for a new church. One day he asked, “By the way, Leif, have you found another church?”
“No. I tried a bunch of them but I’m back at First Church. None of those other pastors had found their sermon.”
“Oh,” Peterson said. “So that’s what he meant.”
Our extraordinary God seems to like using ordinary people, churches, and habits. He fills the ordinary with grace only he can provide. That’s my sermon. What’s yours?