Written by Rev. Chris Shorow

Some of the best preaching advice I ever got came from an elder in the first church I served out of Divinity School. After a rather lengthy, somewhat unfocused sermon, he came up to me and said, “Boiled peanuts.” What do you mean?, I thought. He followed—“Sermons are like boiled peanuts. Give the people just enough to leave them wanting more.” And if you’ve ever had the southern delicacy known as boiled peanuts, you understand that just a few of them won’t do.

And it’s true of sermons as well. There is so much to say about our faith, especially when we are passionate about it. However, we don’t need to say it all at once. That is a problem I often have. I get so excited about Good News that I run the risk of going overtime. It reminds me of something Fred Craddock often said. Life is like getting a $10,000 bill. Wow. Think of what that could purchase. But try spending a $10,000 bill. No one has change. And so you spend your life cashing in the ones, tens and twenties, rather than spending the entire $10,000.

Life is like that. Our experience of the good news is made up of moments of one-dollar grace, sometimes five-dollar experiences of Christ and fewer tens and twenties. And almost never do we have the $10,000 experience. So many preachers fail in sermons by trying to give you the $10,000 experience, rather than simply sharing those one, five, ten and twenty experiences. It’s all about boiled peanuts.

Short is often better. The shortest inaugural speech given by a President was George Washington at his second inauguration. His speech was 135 words long, the shortest in history. And George didn’t turn out to be a bad president! The longest was given by William Henry Harrision—8,445 words. It too two hours and he delivered it on a cold, wet day without wearing a coat or a hat. When he died a month later of pneumonia, most blamed it on his long speech. I guess it can be a matter of life and death as well!

But speeches can be a great source of inspiration. FDR said, “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Or JFK, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” Even Richard Nixon had wise words, “We have endured a long night of the American spirit. But as our eyes catch the dimness of the first rays of dawn, let us not curse the remaining dark. Let us gather light.”

Amen. Darkness and light are what we are all about as people of God. So if I go overtime some time in my sermon, please forgive me. I’ll try to remember boiled peanuts and God’s grace in the five-dollar experiences.

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