On Retiring a Sermon

Unlike a lot of you, I don’t have to prepare a sermon each week. In fact, I only have to prepare two or three a year. And I’ve usually got one that’s my go-to sermon. When I’m asked to preach on a particular topic or text, I prepare something original. When I’m not, I go to the go-to.

I realize this is a luxury. I’ve gotten to deliver this sermon in many venues over many months. I know the jokes that work. I don’t need to use notes. I have the scripture text memorized. I have completely internalized the message, and I am confident in its delivery.

The sermon I’ve been living with the last couple years is based on Mark 9:2-10, in which Jesus is transfigured. I think I found a particularly interesting exegetical hook, in that Mark records Peter’s odd statement — “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us build three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — and there is no response from Jesus. In fact, Mark records a rare omniscient narrator comment: “He said this because they were so afraid that they didn’t know what to say.”

The hook is that Peter expresses the very human desire to hang on to the intense spiritual moment that he was having — he wanted to institutionalize it, even if only for a few more moments. Even more interesting is that Jesus doesn’t respond. In fact, it’s the only time in all four Gospels in which Jesus doesn’t respond when directly spoken to.

This Sunday, I will give this sermon for the last time.

I’ve had the good fortune to give this sermon at a couple preaching conferences, college chapel services, and a dozen churches. In many ways, it’s a sermon I developed for my home church, the Colonial Church of Edina. This Sunday, for only the second time since I left that church’s employ in 2003, I will be preaching. It’s the church in which I was reared, and the church my parents still attend. It’s also a church with a 65,000-square-foot footprint. A modern-day tabernacle. And, I can tell you, from personal experience, that the building in which that congregation resides is both its biggest blessing and its greatest curse.

What do we do with all these tabernacles? That’s what I’ll ask the congregation of a relatively affluent suburb, surrounded by mainly Christians. But the nones are coming.

Having delivered this sermon at two services, I will retire it. It’s seen a lot of miles. It’s given good service. But now it’s time for me to turn my attention to another text and another message. I have no idea what that will be, but I trust the Spirit, in her wisdom, to guide me to something interesting and challenging.

  • Darrell Muth

    Good insights Tony, Like you I also preach my sermons more than once. I believe a good sermon is like a good song – it should be sung more than once, but there is a time to put it to bed

  • curtismpls

    “What to do with all these tabernacles?”

    Was that a rhetorical question, or are you really looking for ideas about what to do with all of these mostly-empty, over-sized churches that dot our landscape?

  • Aran

    is there. recording of this sermon somewhere? I’d like to hear it…either that or you can just come over and deliver it directly to me while I sit and listen in my living room…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/ Tony Jones

      Alas, the sound system crashed while I was preaching, and the final recording of that sermon was lost.

      You know, when Satan fell, he landed in the sound booth.


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