In the classic 1942 black-and-white film Casablanca, characters played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman both tell a piano player named Sam to play their favorite song. The song was “As Time Goes By,” and contains the phrase, “You must remember this…”. The line is never said exactly this way in the movie, but the famous quote is: “Play it again, Sam!”

I once read an interview with Amy Grant. She had just recorded an album of hymns, and she told the interviewer, “I’ve heard lots of sermons over the years, and I don’t remember any of them. But I do remember all those wonderful old hymns we sang when I was growing up.” Well, excuse me, but that’s not a fair comparison at all. You might hear any given sermon once (assuming you stay awake all the way through it). But we’ve sung those old hymns over and over and over, until many of us have them practically memorized. A hymn is probably sung in a church twice a year at least, maybe more often than that. Let a pastor try repeating the same few sermons twice a year, and the deacons will be meeting to discuss the problem.

Besides that, you’re not supposed to remember the sermon. You’re supposed to remember the Scripture.

I hate it when a preacher begins by saying, “The title of my message today is…” Why should I care what the title of your sermon is? How does it matter in the slightest? The 20th-century Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said the title of a sermon was the least important thing about it, and he often only gave them titles so they could be published. Don’t tell me the title of your sermon. Tell me why I should listen to you.

I was taught that if you don’t capture your audience’s attention in the first 30 seconds or so, you’ve probably lost it for good. And you have to capture their attention, not demand it. You have to start with something that immediately grabs their interest, or has them wondering “Why in the world is he talking about that?” And it should lead right into the subject of whatever portion of Scripture you’re preaching on.

When it’s all over, and the last song is sung, and the last “Amen!” is said, it doesn’t matter if you don’t remember the sermon. The title doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember the outline. The illustrations don’t matter, except as a way to capture an audience’s attention again, and bring them back to the matter at hand. Because the only thing that really matters is if you remember the Scripture that was preached.

When the preacher was done, did you understand the passage of Scripture more clearly than you did before? Can you read it again yourself and think, “I love what this means.” Does the passage of Scripture now help you understand what God said, what God is doing, and how it all affects you? Does the Scripture now bring you comfort, and maybe insight and wisdom that you didn’t have before? Most of all, does it point you to Jesus, and what He did for us on the cross, and how we can be rightly related to God and walk with Him until it’s time for us to go to heaven? If a sermon does any or all of that, then it’s a success. It doesn’t matter if you remember the sermon. It matters that you remember what God said. It matters that you see Jesus.

In the book of Nehemiah there is a wonderful, succinct definition of what preaching really ought to be. Ezra the scribe was reading the book of the Law (the Scriptures) to the assembled people of Israel. With a group of dedicated men who were helping him, they made sure everyone in the crowd could understand what they were hearing. The Bible says, “They read from the book, from the law of God, clearly. And they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:8)

And in the New Testament, the apostle Paul gave instructions to his young protégé Timothy. He said, “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. …Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:6, 13)

There are other passages, but these define the preacher’s task. Read the Scripture, explain the Scripture, point to Jesus. 19th-century English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “I take a text, and make a bee-line for the cross.”

The preacher isn’t a motivational speaker, a stand-up comedian or a “life coach” (whatever that is—give me a break). His purpose isn’t to entertain, make you laugh, or help you with practical tips for your life. He isn’t there to debate, lead a discussion, or start a dialogue. His purpose is to make an announcement. He’s there to announce the Good News.

The preacher is to tell what God has done, from the accounts recorded in God’s Book, and point to God’s Son Jesus and how we all need Him. If a good outline, interesting facts, attention-grabbing illustrations, a funny joke, and a snappy title help accomplish that purpose, then well and good. But when it’s all done, it doesn’t matter if you remember any of that stuff. It doesn’t even matter if you remember the preacher, or if you liked him or didn’t like him, or if you thought his hair was weird.

All that matters is if you remember what God said. All that matters is if you remember Jesus. All that matters is that you understand that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

And if the preacher is reading the Scriptures, explaining the Scriptures, and pointing to Jesus, then the only thing to say to him is: “Say it again, Sam!”

Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor David