In the past few weeks I have been revisiting events that took place in my hometown of Lowestoft 100 years ago. For a specific article on this click here.
I have felt a growing connection with the preacher at the heart of those stirring events in 1921. I am fascinated by the things that shaped him as a preacher and the sermons which had such a dramatic impact a century ago.
Pictures of Brown portray him as a figure of quiet authority, Bible in hand and a purposeful gaze. He looks authoritative and determined, yet humble and approachable.
Brown had come to Lowestoft with some experience of seeing God at work in his preaching, but with a reluctance to take on this mission, especially after 11 days in bed with the Spanish Flu. This devastating global pandemic that killed millions worldwide makes for a poignant connection with our own Covid blighted times.
Stanley Griffin includes one of Douglas Brown’s sermons in his book A Forgotten Revival. The sermon is based on John 4:28–29 and is entitled The Left Water-pot.
I have tried to imagine what it might have been like to listen to this sermon during the heady days of a century ago.
It has the following four features
Biblical: Brown preaches a message that is rooted in a biblical text. He chooses two verses from John Chapter 4 but does so in such a way that draws in the fuller story that John relates in that chapter.
Simple: Brown is not a complicated preacher. He uses plain and simple language that is easy to understand. He says what he means, and he means what he says. The structure is simple and straightforward and is easy to follow. Brown is a model of how to be simple without being simplistic.
Vivid: The sermon is organised around the image of a discarded water-pot. Brown plays with the reasons why this pot might have been left behind. Such a taut unfolding of the sermon keeps the attention of the hearer engaged. The sermon captures well the spiritual implications of that pot being left behind. In fact, a remarkable sermon flows from that pot.
“Why did she leave it behind? Because she found something else, something that far transcended in value that old water pot.” I am interested to see that the preacher added: “If I were an artist, I would paint this scene.”
In many ways that is exactly what is done in this sermon. The preacher’s words turn our
ears into eyes. I can see that discarded water-pot left at the well, with all it now says about the change of heart and priorities experienced by the Samaritan woman.
Direct: The sermon begins both with the text and us: “There are people who have a strange habit of leaving things behind.” Immediately hearers feel the connection between the biblical world and their own. The sermon uses direct address throughout. The preacher is speaking to us.
The conclusion of the sermon incorporates a daydream that the preacher had about an angel writing the record of discarded water-pots, each one representing the joy that the angels experience when they see sinners repent. The sermon ends with a direct application to the hearers.
“If there is a water-pot that Christ would have you leave behind, may he give you his Calvary grace, that you may be more than a conqueror through him who loves you.”
It is all a bit basic:
Root the sermon in the Bible
Aim to use simple language and structures in the sermon.
Paint vivid word pictures that help the hearers see the truth.
Try to be direct in engaging the hearers.
It that it? Well it’s a good start and our sermons would benefit from paying attention to these guidelines. Yet we know that this is not it.
Preachers know that there is more going on in a sermon than the words on the page. There was a power at work in the delivery of this sermon that had an impact that is immeasurably more than could be thought or imagined.
Perhaps we should pray that God would use some of the millions of sermons preached in 2021 to have something of the impact of this sermon on a discarded water-pot?