By John D. Pierce

This Sunday, Nov. 5, as part of its All Saints’ Day observance, the First Baptist Church of Athens, Ga., will remember its longtime former pastor Jon Appleton who died last November. During that service I will present the congregation and the Appleton family with framed covers of This Hope We Have: Selected Sermons and Meditations of Jon Appleton, newly released from Nurturing Faith Books.

Then the church will host a reception in the Brayon Foyer from 2:30-4:00pm at which time the family will be present and copies available for purchase. Lex Horton, who served as the church’s youth minister during Jon’s pastorate and now is book publishing manager for Nurturing Faith, will join us as well.

Recently, Frank Granger, minister of Christian community at First Baptist and a member of the Nurturing Faith Board of Directors, interviewed me about the book which I edited:

Q: This is a book of Jon Appleton’s sermons. Are these sermons all from his years in the pastorate here in Athens, or do they span a longer period?

A: All of the collected sermons and meditations were delivered by Jon to the congregation of First Baptist Church of Athens, Ga. As with most preachers, however, some sermons probably had roots in earlier pastorates.

Q: How are the sermons arranged? Are they in a chronological order, a thematic arrangement, or a different approach?

A: When editing the book, including selecting the sermons and meditations for publication, I looked for some natural groupings. Overall I was struck by the common thread of “hope” throughout Jon’s preaching ministry. So I titled the book, This Hope We Have, a phrase that jumped out at me.

The selected sermons in the first chapter (“Sermons for Hopeful Living”) all speak to this theme in some way as well. Other divisions are “Sermons from the Gospel of John” (obviously Jon’s favorite book in the Bible), “Sermons for Special Occasions” (such as deacon ordination, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Thanksgiving), “Sermons for Advent and Christmas,” “Communion Meditations” and “Sermons for Holy Week and Easter.”

Q: You knew Jon for many years, including when he was pastor here in Athens and you were on the staff of The Christian Index. What did you learn about him from your work with these sermons? 

A: As with many pastors I’ve known through the years, I had few opportunities to hear Jon preach. So engaging with these sermons was insightful. First, I discovered how poetic he was — especially when conveying the essence of Christmas, Easter and Holy Communion.

Second, John didn’t try to make the Gospel too palatable by softening the demands Jesus made of his followers. Right now, while Nurturing Faith is envisioning ways to advance a Jesus worldview, that perspective is needed and appreciated.

Q: Preachers have different styles, how would you describe the preaching style of Dr. Appleton?

A: These descriptions come to mind: relational, conversational, biblical, relevant, comforting yet challenging. And as everyone who knew him knew: humor was used effectively.

Q: My assumption is that you have more sermons available to you than you were able to include in the book. How did you, as an editor, determine what to include?

A: I looked for sermons and meditations with a sense of timelessness. Some addressed a very specific concern at a specific time and place. I wanted to be sure that the message Jon sought to convey was still something readers need to hear today — in any time and place.

And I looked for ones that didn’t include cryptic notes in the margin (like “Tell Alpine story”), which I couldn’t decipher. Sermons are written for proclamation (and often altered by the preacher leading up to delivery) rather than for publication. So it takes a little effort to move from one medium to another effectively.

Q: Do you have a favorite sermon, or story within a sermon?

A: Yes, a sermon preached in 1990 titled “When Death Comes.” He tells the story of making a blunder as a young pastor and how God used that situation. I loved it because it was confessional — another mark of Jon’s preaching and overall ministry.

He called his error “one of life’s ‘little’ deaths” and conveyed the importance of being a fellow traveler on the road of faith rather than an expert talking down to others. And since this volume was published posthumously (though Jon knew it was coming) I appreciated his affirmation near the end of the sermon: “Death is cutting, but in Christ there is release.”

 

The book’s epilogue by current pastor Paul Baxley is the eulogy he gave at Jon’s funeral on Nov. 30, 2016. Those unable to attend the reception may purchase copies (in print or digital) at nurturingfaith.org/bookstore.

And a reminder: Turn your clocks back on Saturday night — after the game.

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