"As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue,
the people urged them to speak about these things again on the next Sabbath.”
Acts 13:42 (Common English Bible)
Tom Tewell shared with me that some years ago, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, PA preached a sermon that so captured the hearts and minds of the congregation that the governing board passed a resolution that on the anniversary of that sermon each year, the pastor was to preach it again. Some time ago I heard an interview with Robin Roberts, a host of the morning show, Good Morning America. She spoke candidly of her Christian faith and her morning time with God before going to work. She mentioned a favorite devotional guide that she used each morning – one that provided a meditation for each day of the year. On January 1 of the following year, she started through the same devotional again.
During my ministry in Bucks County, PA I was asked in one week to preach a Christian message of hope for two different families who were burying a loved one. Neither family had a church home or a pastor. Each service was in a different funeral home. A dear friend of mine, Bill, was close to both families and attended both services. In each service I preached the same sermon. Though both families expressed gratitude to me for my message, each saying that the message was precisely what they needed to hear, Bill shared his disappointment with me following the second service. Bill’s complaint was that he had already heard that sermon earlier in the week. I simply reminded him that I was not preaching for him.
It has never been my practice to preach the same Sunday morning message twice in the same congregation. Yet, often I will reuse an illustration in other sermons. This is for two reasons: I believe that no other illustration has the same force to advance the message I wish to convey, and, the illustration embodies such truth within itself that I wish to impact more lives with its use. Worshipping communities are like streams – you never step into the same stream twice. The water from the first experience has now moved on. The second experience is always into new water. Likewise, the second telling of the illustration nearly always reaches persons not in attendance during the earlier usage. I’m not preaching to those who have already heard the illustration.
It is natural to grow tired of hearing most stories over and over again. But stories that capture some truth; stories that instructs and inspires do not grow old. That is because they stir something in us each time. Much as some who read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol each Christmas, the Bible and illustrations that open the truths of the Bible clearly and powerfully are not ones we grow tired of. Inspiration for living in difficult times leak and must be refreshed. Reading a strong book of meditations that strengthen in one year can do the same the next year, just as Robin Roberts has experienced. So, as Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people urged them to speak about these things again on the next Sabbath.