Century-old sermon comes alive
Words used in a sermon delivered a century ago rang out again in Baker University's Osborne Chapel last Thursday.
It was the Rev. Ira DeSpain's second delivery using sermon topics from Bishop William Alfred Quayle, probably the university's most famous clergyman. The sermon was entitled "God Is Still Talking" and Quayle delivered it in the Christmas season more than 100 years ago.
Thursday's version was just as well received as DeSpain's initial Quayle-like sermon in August.
"Response has been positive," said DeSpain. "People respond like, 'Gee, this sure sounds like it was delivered today.' Part of that is I'm revising the sermons to make them fit today's language, etc.
"Also, the original manuscripts are about 12 to 14 typed pages," he said. "We don't sit that long and I don't have that much time. I find them terribly inspiring."
Quayle has been called a cornerstone of Baker. He graduated from the university in 1884 and became its president six years later in 1890. He was a Methodist minister who also served as a Methodist bishop from 1908 to 1925, when he died.
Quayle left the sermons and his rare Bible collection to the university. His retirement "dream home" is north of U.S. Highway 56 on Sixth Street and is listed on the Kansas Historical Places.
DeSpain decided on the Quayle sermons as a way to celebrate the university's 150th anniversary this year.
"I was just trying to figure out what to do as a religious observance of the BU@150," he said. "Quayle is the best known clergy alum and was known as a wonderful preacher. I thought using a primary text would be more meaningful that to simply report on what he did."
The process hasn't been easy. DeSpain said he's done a lot of editing and changing on the sermons.
"Getting it down from 12 pages to four pages of a larger font requires massive omissions and editing," he said. "Quayle was often redundant by our standards, so he would say the same thing two or three different ways. I just said it once.
"Oratory in his days was longer and more verbose," said DeSpain. "We are more of a 'sound byte' crowd."
As an example of that, DeSpain noted how he'd handled the first sermon.
"In the first one I did in August, Quayle talks about why people settled in Kansas," he said. "He gives about a page each to why we did not settle in each of the surrounding states and about four pages about how Missouri is the worst place of all to live.
"I gave each of the states one sentence because that was not the point of the sermon," said DeSpain.
But, through the omissions and editing, Quayle's messages still ring true. The closing to Thursday's "God Is Still Talking" shows that. It reads:
"We now join in the adventure of speaking for God. Can we be the authentic voices of God? Can people really hear the authentic voice of God through us? Yes, and you know why? Because we don't have to be perfect, we don't have to be inspired. Jesus is good; Jesus is inspiration that breathes through us. God is always saying that for the last moment and the last person that heaven awaits us. And yet, life itself awaits us, not then, but now, today, here. God will give us the words to speak. We will be fingering the instruments of music, but the voice that people hear will be the words of God."
It's not just DeSpain that finds words such as these still relevant today. Rural Baldwin City resident Bill Clement thinks the words still resonate and he was at the Thursday service.
"I always like Ira's sermons," said Clement. "He always does a good job. This series he's doing on Quayle is interesting historically.
"The words really ring true," he said. "It really shouldn't be too surprising. We still deal with the same things today, even if it's a different perspective. Those things really don't change a lot."
Baker Professor Tony Brown, who has also taken part in the Quayle series, agreed with DeSpain and Clement.
"What impresses me most about Bishop Quayle's sermons is not just the eloquence of his words, but how timeless his themes are," said Brown. "Passages that he wrote over a century ago still resonate as if they were written last week.
"The issues he raises go to the core of the human condition -- they stay the same even when the people struggling with them change," he said.
DeSpain's next Quayle sermon will be in February.