Recently after visiting the city of Bad Liebenzell, Germany I picked up a box lying around my house full of sermons written by my grandfather 60 or so years ago. My grandfather was a minister who studied theology at Liebenzell Mission between 1925 and 1929. He was ordained in 1931 and immediately sent to China, where he served as a missionary until 1949, when the communists expelled Westerners from the country. Traveling back to Germany through China and the Soviet Union wasn’t possible at that time; so my grandfather immigrated with his family to the United States. Soon he received a call to serve as the pastor of a small German-English congregation in Hudson, New York.
My grandfather lived 90 years. Born in 1903, his life spanned almost the whole of the turbulent twentieth century. He lived through World War I, the rise and fall of Weimar Germany, a Communist revolution in China, the emergence of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and even the fall of the Berlin Wall. In all these different times and places he consistently committed himself to the straightforward, if adventurous, task of announcing the Christian gospel. His sermons, which span so much history, reflect that solid substance. Admittedly, they’re a little dated, and even old-fashioned, but the quality shines through.
Two things in particular strike me about my grandfather’s sermons. The first is his use of a typological method to interpret Scripture. The typological method identifies patterns, or parallels, which connect the Old and New Testaments. It views the Bible as an integrated, unified whole. Clergy today rarely approach the Bible this way, perhaps because they have been unduly influenced by the historical critical method. The historical critical method not only breaks the Bible down into separate books, but also breaks the separate books down into composite parts. Genesis, for example, was written by four or five authors, 2 Corinthians is really a compilation of seven separate letters, and so forth. Whatever insights this approach may bring, it has the definite disadvantage of unschooling students out of ways of reading that are sensitive to allusion, subtle parallels, and nuance of meaning within the text. My grandfather’s typological approach lends a theological substance to his sermons that many a modern preacher might envy.
The second impressive thing about my grandfather’s sermons is the way he connects abstract theological points with concrete, everyday concerns. His sermons are down to earth, full of practical observations, interesting illustrations, and helpful advice that just might help his parishioners make it through another week. Finding authentic connections between lofty theological ideas and life as we know it is more difficult than a lot of people realize. Some who make the effort never do better than to offer canned religious answers unhelpfully out of touch with real life. This shortcoming is one that my grandfather, for the most part, avoids.
After mulling over many of these sermons, I decided I would share some of them on my blog. This year for Lent I plan to post a sermon a week through Easter. If you enjoy reading them I hope you’ll let me know, because I can always post more. You can read a few of them now by clicking on the links below.