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Listening for the Voice: Collected Sermons & Reflections on Preaching

Roger Nelson
Published by Broken Spoke Books in 2023

Over twenty years ago, Pastor Roger Nelson was challenged: stay in one place, be faithful in preaching, and see what difference it makes.  By the fall of 2022, he had been living out that challenge, preaching at Hope CRC on the south side of Chicago for twenty years. This book of sermons and commentary reflects that challenge and his time at Hope CRC.

You may wonder why reading a collected book of sermons is important. Any preacher will appreciate the pulling back of the curtain on the thoughts, fears, and hard work that comes with faithfully “doing time” in the pulpit.  Any parishioner will appreciate the honesty and struggle this preacher portrays. In any case, it’s a gift to read the sermons and reflections of a pastor who worked hard to stay faithful to the challenge of staying in one place, remaining faithful, and seeing a difference made possible through the Spirit. 

Roger starts this collection with the beauty and wonder of working with the Word each week.  He writes that it was the discovery that “I can dig around in scripture for the rest of my life and always find the soil rich and fertile.  I can turn these texts over and over and over and never run out of material, never run out of mystery, never run out of meaning.”  Like Jacob wrestling at the Jabbok, the preacher may leave the pulpit limping, but for twenty years of Sundays, Roger found blessing in a “wrestling wonder”.

His reflections in this collection focus on who he is as a person as well as the voice he brings to the pulpit as a preacher. With comparisons to comedians, Roger speaks of seeing the world in a way that is “slant”. In his messages, you can see this in who the person Roger is.  He tends to be on the outside looking in on the church, at our culture, and at our world.  It is a gift born not of certainty but of honesty.  He exegetes our culture as he exegetes the Word.  

The sermon itself is a collage that comes from people, experience, and the work of the Spirit.  The preacher puts the pieces together in a way that is unique and original, but the parts and pieces come together from many sources.  It is a continuing conversation of ongoing light between scripture, preacher, and congregation.  Truly, it is a work not for one Sunday but for the years of a preacher’s life.  Roger says, “Individual sermons might flash or fizzle, but I’ve learned that what matters is sustaining the long conversation of light between scripture, Spirit, and congregation”. This insight is one that can be gained when staying in one place and remaining faithful. Reading these sermons as a collection allows us to witness a particularly long conversation. I think that is a sacred gift to behold. 

The personal stories of Roger’s life merge into his reflections on preaching as well.  Preaching is physical for Roger because so much of Roger’s life is physical. As a triathlete, his focus on training and discipline is often what unlocks a truth or connection he wants to make in a sermon.  While stuck behind his desk, his thoughts may be clogged, but a Saturday afternoon run or workout releases connections that will carry over to the next day.  It was during one of those workouts that Roger was hit by a young driver as he was cycling.  The trauma of the accident shaped the reality of a life that already endured severe trauma. as Roger’s father was murdered when Roger was in seminary.  Roger was with him when he died and continues to preach near the place where his father was killed.  The result is that Roger recognizes that trauma of some sort is a part of every life, and people bring those experiences to hearing a sermon or preaching one.  

Has his trauma impacted his work as a preacher? “Probably…but learning and being shaped by trauma doesn’t mean that it was part of God’s will.  Maybe my heart is softer, maybe I know the long, jagged journey of grief, and maybe I have some idea of what it’s like to be diminished, but there will never be reason enough.  May we hold both sovereignty and brokenness tenderly and in tension” (276). Roger is in touch with the world of longing and looking for something more in this world because of his life experiences–including trauma–and because of how those experiences shaped him.  His life as a preacher is shaped by his longing to be faithful and honest. 

It is a daunting task to decide how, or if, twenty years of preaching makes a difference.  I retired from full-time preaching a few years ago and have piles of sermons, from those printed on dot matrix printers to those that now fit comfortably in my Google drive.  In toto, how do they make a difference? Roger Nelson’s collection of sermons can be read daily as a devotion, which for me, was a gift. Yet, this book also helped me reflect on the fact that, as Roger says, preaching is a communal act.  It’s more than sharing biblical information or offering tips for living.  It’s more than the noodlings of a restless soul or the charisma of a skilled orator.  Preaching lives and moves and has its being in community.  This book is an homage to that reality and the difference made by a faithful preacher living with and leading people. 

Roger starts every scripture reading with, “Listen, then, for the voice of God,” and in summation of his twenty years of preaching, that is both what he has been doing and what he invites us to do. 

Taylor Holbrook

Taylor Holbrook is the son of a son of a preacher.  A third generation RCA pastor, he is retired and now spends his time as a grandpa, working with immigration and hunger issues and section hiking the Appalachian Trail. He is a member of three different preachers' groups that still meet regularly.


  • RW says:

    Your comment that “He exegetes our culture as he exegetes the Word” is spot on with what I observe. It’s a key element of what makes his preaching so rich.

  • Corky DeBoer says:

    Taylor, thanks so much for your wonderful review. There are a few books that I find myself returning to year after year because of how they touch my soul. This is now one of them. I hope many others will take time in these demanding and chaotic days to be blessed as they read and reflect on “Listening to the Voice”

  • Mark S. Hiskes says:

    Taylor, thanks for this fine review of Roger Nelson’s book. I, too, read these sermons for daily devotions and was enriched in countless ways. As a former member of Hope Church in Chicago, it does my heart good to see how this unique congregation has flourished under Roger’s leadership, and his honest, inspired, relevant preaching has a lot to do with that. His reflections at the end of the collection on the process of writing sermons was terrific too. Thanks again for writing about this gift of a book.