In a recent episode of BBC’s Celebrity Masterchef, one of the challenges given the contestants was to make a sandwich. Now before you begin to think that this is like being asked to boil an egg — think again.
The person asked to introduce the task was Max Halley, someone experienced in cooking at a number of fine dining establishments, but who had left that life to set up his own place.
His new venture is a sandwich shop with a difference. He has dedicated his life to the perfection of a very British institution: the sandwich.
This creative chef invents a sandwich by imagining his favourite meal between two slices of bread. His six rules for making a sandwich are simple:
A sandwich should be hot, cold, sweet, sour, crunchy and soft!
“For me”, says Max Halley, “it’s the secret of deliciousness.”
One of the contestants made a fish and chip sandwich, which, with homemade tartare sauce and mushy peas, had all of the six ingredients of the perfect sandwich.
What would you put in such a sandwich? I think I might try a lamb curry sandwich using garlic naan bread.
All of this talk of making sandwiches has made me feel hungry and has also got me thinking about what the ingredients of the perfect sermon might look like. How about the following:
Timeless, contemporary, familiar, unfamiliar, clear, intriguing, principle, practice, reverence, joy, warning, encouragement, exhortation, enabling, God and us. Grace and truth. The work of Jesus and our response. The power of the Holy Spirit and our own continuance.
I wonder whether Paul might have had this in mind when he wrote the following words to Timothy:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
Scripture provides the preacher with resources for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training. All four of these need to be present in an effective sermon.
Sermons need to contain information. The truth needs to be unpacked for the hearers so that they can understand what Scripture is saying to them.
Sermons need to have an element of challenge, as they probe and rebuke ideas, attitudes and behaviours that hinder our ability to listen.
Sermons need to contain practical help in how we can tackle these hindrances in our lives, so that we can begin to listen, learn and make progress.
Sermons need to provide some form of “training in righteousness.” Otherwise hearers are left thinking, “This is all very well and good, but what does it look like in practice?”
These things are so important that Paul immediately reiterates and expands this emphasis:
“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
One thing that is added is “with great patience.”
The ongoing work of preaching that seeks to communicate to all the contours of the human condition requires patience. You cannot merely throw together the perfect sandwich. Nor should a sermon be hastily cobbled together if the preacher wants the hearer to develop a mature, well-rounded godliness.