Sermon Preparation: A Lesson from Mexico City

By Rev. Dr. William Utech

In the Minnesota South District News insert of the June/July issue of The Lutheran Witness, President Nadasdy shares ways that listeners can prepare themselves to hear the Sunday sermon preached by their pastor. Dr. Nadasdy’s four suggestions for better, more involved listening are helpful indeed. I would add one more…

What difference would it make in our lives and in the lives of our congregations and communities, if beyond just listening to Sunday morning sermons, we actually got to preach them ourselves? How would THAT improve the impact of our pastor’s preaching ministry? I saw this kind of sermonizing in action a number of years ago when I accompanied a group of seminary students on a cross-cultural ministry immersion trip to Mexico City. 

Mexico City, if you did not know it, is huge! It, and its surrounding barrios (districts), comprise over 760,000 square miles and have a population of close to 21 million people. Roman Catholicism is the “official” religion in Mexico City … just about everyone you meet and talk to will say that he or she is “Catholic” … but as is often the case in Central and South American countries, very few “Catholic” people actually go to church. In fact, when the time for evening Mass rolled around, the only people we saw filing into church buildings were the elderly women who lived in the immediate neighborhood. No men of any age. No young women. No youth. No children. No families.  It was such a sad sight!

And THIS, as we learned and witnessed first hand, was typical! Everybody was a “Catholic,” yet nobody went to church. Everywhere we went we saw it happen exactly that way over and over again. No men. No young women. No youth, No children. No families… And then we got to San Pedro Martyr…

San Pedro Martyr was different!

San Pedro Martyr is a Roman Catholic parish located in one of the poorest Barrios that sits on the outskirts of Mexico City. We arrived there on a Sunday morning, and much to our amazement, the village church was so full of young people and old people and men and women and families that they, quite literally, blew out walls. (The church building was constructed in such a way that if the sanctuary got too full they could open up large doors built into the walls so that the crowds could overflow out into the village square!) There was beautiful congregational singing (led by a Mariachi type orchestra made up of both children and adults) echoing throughout the town square. There was prayer and praise and joy and fellowship. There was an “aliveness in Christ” that was palpable! When the priest preached, he talked a lot about the person and work of Jesus! The Gospel was obviously alive and well in San Pedro Martyr.

“How did this happen?” we asked. “Why is this place so different from all the other parishes we’ve seen?” “How did this many people in this particular village come to be so spiritually alive and active?”

It started, we were told, when the local priest began inviting the leaders of his congregation to his house on Monday evenings when/where he would share with them the sermon text for the coming Sunday, and would teach them one or two things from that text that they should share with their family, their friends, and their neighbors. He not only taught them the text, he also taught them how to teach the text to others!

So it would happen that on Tuesday night, or Wednesday night, or Thursday night, or Friday night, or Saturday night those laypeople would meet in their homes with their family, their friends, and their neighbors and they would teach that sermon text as they had been taught it, so that when Sunday morning rolled around EVERYONE had heard and knew something about that text, and everyone was anxious to hear and see and learn more about it and about how it applied to their daily lives. In other words, God’s people were spending time in His Word, being influenced again, and again, and again by His Gospel, and the church in that place was growing and maturing and flourishing! It was wondrous to behold!

Jesus says in Matthew 28, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We call this passage the Great Commission and we say that it applies to ALL God’s people. It is the Great Commission that He has given to us ALL.

Some say, however, that it was only given to the Apostles—that making disciples is a task ONLY for the religious professionals… To which the people of San Pedro Martyr will respond with a personalized paraphrase of 1 Peter 2:8… “But WE are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that WE MAY PROCLAIM the excellencies of Him who called US out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

If all God’s pastors got ALL God’s people as involved in their preaching ministry as did the pastor at San Pedro Marty, then just think of what wondrous things would happen!