One of the first books I edited in my new position as Abingdon Press is this little book of sermon ideas for preachers. It reads like a devotion and is a nice book of reflections both for homiletical research and for personal private time. Here is one example from Sermon Sparks: 122 Ideas to Ignite Your Preaching, by Thomas Troeger, which is due in warehouses by Nov 1, 2011.
Breaking the Speed Limit on the Road to Nowhere
by Thomas Troeger
Philippians 4: 1-9, Matthew 22: 34-46
I do not remember the original source of the quotation, but I can still hear the voice of the workshop leader citing the principle. His theme was how human organizations forget the purpose for which they were established. He quoted a witty author who had once observed: “Having lost our direction, we doubled our speed!”
It is not just automobile drivers who practice this futile expenditure of effort. Think of the number of congregations and committees that do the same thing. Becoming vague about the reasons that they exist they develop “busy work.” Reports and debates about the least consequential matters increase while significant accomplishment diminishes.
There is in all of us a constant need to reclaim the central purposes for which we were brought into being. Otherwise, we lose our direction and double our speed. Our lives become more frantic and less focused. How easily that could have happened to Paul the apostle while he was in prison and writing the Philippians. He must have been tempted to give in to bitterness and to think only about his sorry state. Perhaps what Paul wrote to the Philippians was a way of reminding himself of what really mattered. Perhaps he was calling himself back to his highest hopes and ideals. For our best sermons are often addressed to ourselves: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4: 8).
In a similar fashion, judging from the internal evidence of his gospel, Matthew appears to have known the frustration of a church that often lost its way and doubled its energy on the wrong issues. Matthew must have found it salutary to quote Jesus identifying the two greatest commandments and reminding us that everything else depends upon them: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22: 40).
The next time you are breaking the speed limit on the road to nowhere, stop and listen to the wisdom of Paul and Christ. Get the directions straight before you accelerate.
Sermon Sparks is available through Cokesbury.com.