John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

Sermons You "Have" to Preach

I grew up in a "free church". That's a technical term used mostly by church nerds like me. It means we weren't tied to any formal denominational structure. It also means that the preachers could preach about nearly anything they chose on any given Sunday. I continue to serve in and among "free churches". I've never preached through the church calendar, though I have friends who have and do. I've even toyed with the idea a few times. But I continue to plan out sermons based on the freedom granted by the churches I serve to preach what I think is best and not be bound by any external structures.

Of course, there are some Sundays when you know what you're going to get. Easter, obviously, tops that list. If you show up on Easter Sunday, and the preacher says, "Now, turn in your Bibles to the Book of Nehemiah," you'd wonder if you heard him correctly. Nehemiah is a good book in the Good Book, and it should be preached -- but not on Easter Sunday.

I grew up in a church that stubbornly (and foolishly) refused to talk about Christmas on Christmas. It's not that we didn't celebrate it at home; we did. We simply did not believe Jesus was actually born on December 25, so we did not do Christmasy things in our church building. No carols. No decorations. Certainly no trees with lights and presents. And no sermons on the birth of Jesus. None of that. Historical accuracy was a higher priority for us than cultural relevance, so the Sunday nearest Christmas wasn't any different from a Sunday in July.

Most of that kind of thinking has gone away, and only the most die-hard fundamentalists refuse to preach a Christmas sermon in late December. Therefore, you may add a Christmas sermon to the Easter sermon in the "must preach this" column.

So, a Christmas sermon and an Easter sermon. Those are sermons you just have to preach.

But are there others? This Sunday, for example, is Valentine's Day. I wonder if other preachers out there feel any compulsion to talk about love and relationships and marriage and dating and romance and all that.

Likewise, this year Halloween will also fall on a Sunday. Any preachers planning to mention Martin Luther and the whole Reformation thing? Or will they talk about the masks we all wear? The "tricks" we play on each other if we don't get what we want?

What about the 4th of July? That's a Sunday this year. How many preachers will talk about freedom and the price that's paid for freedom and then relate it back to Galatians and Paul and Jesus?

And let's not forget about Mother's Day and Father's Day. Personally, I don't like the idea that people expect to hear a sermon thanking mothers and a sermon scolding fathers once a year. But you tell me: How would people react if they showed up on Mother's Day and heard me say, "Now, turn in your Bibles to the Book of Nehemiah"?

National Day of Prayer.

National Right to Life Day.

Memorial Day Weekend.

Thanksgiving.

How many sermons are there now that you just "have" to preach?