The Power of Preaching

April 05, 2024 • Rev. Rob Fuquay

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” 1 Peter 3:15 

Last year I read the book American Saint. It is about the life of Francis Asbury the first bishop of the United Methodist Church. I’ll share in the sermon Sunday how this book inspired our series we will start Sunday thinking about the future of the United Methodist Church. In other words, we will look backward in order to look forward. What’s in our past, our spiritual DNA, that should shape our future? This Sunday we consider the power of preaching. 

Methodist preaching was unique, powerful, and transformative. It communicated the Gospel in plain ways such that uneducated people could lay hold of the grand truths about God. Henry Ward Beecher, one of the early pastors of Second Presbyterian Church, was the son of Lyman Beecher, President of Yale Divinity School. Beecher’s preaching was shaped here in Indianapolis by Methodist circuit riders! Beecher was well educated and brilliant but couldn’t understand why such large crowds were turning out for Methodist gatherings while his church was half-empty. So he went to find out. There was nothing eloquent about the preaching. The preachers themselves were not schooled. But the way they communicated the Gospel was powerful, emotional, and down to earth. Beecher changed his style. He let go of intellectual pride and started preaching to the average person and his church took off as did Beecher’s career. He moved to New York where he became known as “the most famous man in America,” the name of Debbie Applegate’s well-known book. 

Methodist preaching gave people hope but don’t think it was just about personal salvation. Methodist preaching challenged people and called out issues of justice. One of the more explosive topics was slavery. In 1800 Asbury wrote an address to the General COnference that began, “We have long lamented the great national evil of SLAVERY,” saying it was “repugnant to the unalienable rights of mankind and the very essence of civil liberty.” Did you catch the reference to the Preamble to the Constitution? Methodists were encouraged to address this matter in their preaching, call on Methodists to demand of their state legislatures to abolish slavery, and call on any slave-owning Methodists to emancipate slaves. So much for keeping politics out of church! That just ain’t in our DNA! 

This preaching divided the early church. It drove some away, but it also convicted others who changed their views and practices.  

This is who we are! Methodists are people who help others find and give hope through Jesus Christ. That hope is both personal and social and for Wesley and Asbury these were never meant to be separated. We will consider Sunday what it means to be “preachers,” all of us. Today I want us to remember the need for such hope and preaching. Yesterday marked the 56th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Unfortunately racism didn’t die. The cause continues. The dream is still needed. 

May we continue to be a people who are open to the grand truths of God not only when they are appealing but also when they are challenging and hard to hear. This is who we were, are, and still must be. May we “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” 

Rev. Rob Fuquay