I will confess fully-- I have indeed preached lousy sermons. It's not that I have failed to prepare, nor that I have not offered my work to the Lord in prayer. But sometimes, for all my hard work and discernment, when I stand up before the congregation on Sunday morning and preach, it just seems that it doesn't come out as it should. I wonder what difference all that preparation has made. I wonder if the response to my words offered for reflection is simply, "So what?"
The previous church I served was on the radio each week and streamed via the Internet. I never thought too much about that each Sunday. It was something I needed to account for on Sunday morning, but neither did I find it to be a distraction. On one Sunday, which I vividly remember, I preached a sermon that in my own mind was a huge flop. Even though I spent several hours working on it, as I usually do, it came off to me as flat-- a kind of "so what" sermon.
Later that week, I received a note in the mail from someone, who was quite elderly and shut in, but listened faithfully on the radio every week. She expressed to me how much my sermon meant to her and that after all the years of her life, she had wondered and struggled with the question I raised in the sermon. She finally felt as if she had an answer to something that had perplexed her for many years.
No matter how we prepare our sermons, no matter how much time we take to get the sermon ready, we preachers must never forget that it is the Holy Spirit that uses our words, whether we believe they are ready for proclamation or not. I cannot tell you how many times that the best sermons I have preached (in my own opinion) seem to engender little response, and the mediocre sermons I have delivered (in my own opinion) seem to have given folks a new perspective on their discipleship. How to explain that I do not know, other than that in the preaching of the Word, something bigger is afoot.
"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, and who announces salvation..." (Isaiah 52:7).
We preachers preach, not to wow the folks with our eloquence (although eloquence is a good thing). We preach knowing that God will use our words for God's glory, regardless of how we judge their effectiveness.