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A SERMON BY TWO MEN –
Today we celebrate the sixtieth birthday of the mother of our church, Mrs. Ileana Hymers. Our text speaks of both Priscilla and her husband Aquila, but this afternoon I will focus on our Priscilla, Mrs. Hymers. Let me read the text focusing on Priscilla.
“Greet Priscilla [my helper] in Christ Jesus: Who [has] for my life laid down [her] own [neck]: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in [her] house” (Romans 16:3-5).
Let me read it with Mrs. Hymers’ name in it. I could say, and you could say,
“Greet Mrs. Hymers [my helper] in Christ Jesus: Who [has] for my life laid down [her] own [neck]: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also [so many others]. Likewise greet the church that is in [her] house” (Romans 16:3-5).
Like the Priscilla who helped Paul, Mrs. Hymers has laid down her neck for our church, even her life. She gave up a secular career to serve us as the pastor’s wife. She was not a passive, delicate flower of a wife. No, no! She worked endless hours as a phoner and a steward, bringing people into our church. She gave up her life and her time to help us. Every person here could write a list of the things that Mrs. Hymers has done for you. For many of you, it was Mrs. Hymers who brought you into the church and took care of you until you were converted – and for a long time afterwards as well. Just as a mother gives life and nourishes it, so does Mrs. Hymers. She is rightly called “the mother of our church.” And, just as Priscilla did, she has our church meeting in her house. We’re in her house right now.
This is a sermon written by two men. I am the first of the two men. I have known Mrs. Hymers since before she was married. In the last few years I have had many conversations with her and have gotten to know her better. Let me tell you some things about Mrs. Hymers.
First, she is strong. Mrs. Hymers does not look strong, but she is. I have seen her pick up heavy suitcases and carry them. But I’m not talking about physical strength, but strength of will and character. I was not surprised to learn that as a girl she managed her father’s store, and that after an earthquake in Guatemala when people were banging on the door, she did not cry or run away, but stood firm. I am not surprised that she was diligent in her education and in learning English. I am not surprised that she is strong in prayer and in all her devotions.
In World War II, Winston Churchill said of England, “We shall not flag or fail, we shall go on to the end.” I can say about Mrs. Hymers, “She shall not flag or fail, she shall go on to the end.” In the words of the Apostle Paul, Mrs. Hymers is “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58; p. 1228).
Second, she is faithful. When Mrs. Hymers says she will do something, she does it. It’s as simple as that. You have heard the saying, “One church for one lifetime.” Mrs. Hymers trusted Jesus in our church more than forty years ago. There has never been a doubt that she would be here all her life, in good times and bad. When so many – even ordained ministers – walked away, this little woman from Guatemala stayed.
You may say, “But she is Mrs. Hymers. She is the pastor’s wife.” Ah, but you don’t know about “Christians” today. During the splits she could have said to her husband, “Oh, Robert, let’s go somewhere else.” Most pastor’s wives would say exactly that. But she didn’t. She could even have said, “This isn’t what I expected. I can’t take it anymore. I’m leaving.” Yes, many women, even pastor’s wives, do exactly that. But not Mrs. Hymers. And after her husband had a stroke, she could have shoved him aside into a convalescent home and left him to die. Many wives and families do that. But she didn’t. Mrs. Hymers, I salute you.
Third, she is sacrificial. She put aside her hopes of a career, what people call “a life.” And I have never seen anyone in the church work harder than she does. In any meeting she is in, she always stays to the end. She is always looking to help someone else. I have never heard her complain about her work load, or her situation in life, or even her health. She is always ready to pray for someone, or to help another person with their needs in life. It is almost as though she does not exist, or does not matter. To Mrs. Hymers, the only ones that are real are Jesus and the person she is helping. Well could she say,
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20; p. 1243).
Fourth, she is charitable. That means she is caring and full of Christian love. The Apostle Paul said,
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (I Corinthians 13:13; p. 1224).
The Greek word translated “charity” is “agapē” which means “Christian love.” This is not about the desires of the body, or the affection of friends. This is a special kind of sacrificial love that only Christians have, where they love others as Christ loved them. The text could be translated,
“And now abideth faith, hope, Christian love, these three; but the greatest of these is Christian love” (I Corinthians 13:13).
Mrs. Hymers has Christian love in great abundance. She almost never asks for anything for herself. She is always thinking about what each one of you needs, not herself. She prays for you. I know she is constantly phoning and texting you, sometimes late at night before she goes to bed. She often says, “How are you?” The emphasis is on “you.” For her, those words are not empty speech like “How’re ya doing?” as people say today. For her, those words show a deep and personal care. I know, because she texts me and calls me. Someone may say, “You’re Dr. Cagan. You’ve been here a long time. You don’t need to be texted and called and asked, ‘How are you’?” But Mrs. Hymers does, and I appreciate it. I appreciate her kindness and care. Thank you, Mrs. Hymers, for thinking of me. I know everyone else here could say the same.
The second of the two men is Ileana Hymers’ husband, Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr. He will speak in words that only he can say. For him, Mrs. Hymers embodies the words of the Book of Proverbs, “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” (Proverbs 31:10; p. 695). She is and always has been more precious than any jewel. Because Dr. Hymers has had a stroke, he cannot deliver this message himself, and so I will speak for him in his own words, written years ago but fresh today. Dr. Hymers says,
Before the foundation of the world your name, Ileana Patricia Cuellar, was written in God’s “Book of Life” (Revelation 17:8). It was my great privilege to preach John 3:16 to you one evening long ago. And you received Jesus. And you were sealed in the “Book of Life” forever. But the best for you lies ahead, because you are an “overcomer.” Jesus said,
“He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment [and] I will confess [Ileana’s] name before my Father, and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5; p. 1333).
You were clothed in a beautiful dress and hat at your first Communion. You were clothed in a beautiful wedding dress on the day we were married. But these dresses were less, far less, important than the “white raiment” you will be clothed in when you stand before the Lord Jesus. Christ shall place “a crown of righteousness” upon your head (cf. II Timothy 4:8). Then the saints and angels will sing to Jesus,
“Thou art worthy...for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed [my sweet Ileana] by thy blood...and [she] shall reign upon the earth” (Revelation 5:9, 10; p. 1335).
When I first knew you, you were so beautiful that I knew I didn’t deserve a girl like you! I took you to see Dr. and Mrs. McGowan. I was so proud of you! You have a lovely smile on your face in the picture they took of us that day. That picture is on my desk at home.
When we were married someone took a picture of you as you waited for the wedding march to begin. You were stunningly beautiful in your wedding gown. Your face, looking down, is like that of a holy angel. When I see it, I know I did not deserve you. Perhaps you thought you were marrying the pastor of a big and thriving church – because we had over a thousand people then. You did not realize that most of them would leave – and you would have to be married to a struggling pastor – and go through the heartache of one church split after the other – for years on end. I am so sorry I didn’t have a better life prepared for you! May God forgive me!
Next to that photo is another one – a picture of the two of us holding our twin sons. You are smiling a broad and beautiful smile, as always. We didn’t realize that we were about to go into another heartbreaking church split. You were only twenty years old. It brings tears to my eyes that I had nothing to give you but sorrow as we entered yet another church split. I offered you a happy life, but all I could give you was decades of suffering and pain. Please forgive me, sweet Ileana.
Then there is a photograph of us at my sixtieth anniversary in the ministry at the Nixon Library. That night I had a haunting feeling that the worst was yet to come. And it did come. Less than a year later we had a horrible church split, the worst one of all. Your friends all left our church, and you had to trudge on alone, with a terrible sickness that most people never knew about. I wish now that the whole evening at the Nixon Library had been a tribute to you – not me! Please forgive me, Ileana, for taking all the glory and praise, instead of giving it to you!
Now I am an old man, having had cancer and a stroke. I am so ashamed that I haven’t given you a better life. Forgive me.
But then my mother came to live with us. You had to care for her as well as me. And you did.
1. My mother was saved – mostly because you loved her and took care of her.
2. Your own mother was saved – for the same reason, your love for her, and care for her.
3. John Wesley graduated from college and is a man of prayer.
4. Robert married a wonderful girl, and they gave us three outstanding grandchildren! And Robert is an outstanding businessman and a multi-millionaire at the age of 39.
5. God has given us a new Chinese church that we can all be proud of. Jack Ngann is the pastor of the church.
6. And you, my outstanding wife, have been our inspiration through it all. You are a woman of prayer. You spend an hour every morning in prayer, in reading the Bible, in reading Spurgeon and Dr. A. W. Tozer.
7. In ways that cannot be described on paper, you, Ileana Cuellar Hymers, have been used by God to heal the mood swings that plagued me from childhood. You are undoubtedly the greatest pastor’s wife in the whole wide world. When you were a young woman in Guatemala you wanted to become a nun. You are far more than a nun. You saved our church. Yes, you, more than any other person, saved it. You have never wavered. You attend every service of our church. I know you better than anyone in the world. And I know you are a saint of God, and you will be given a crown of righteousness by Jesus in that day.
Ileana, I know that you will also be given another crown when you kneel before Jesus. For the Apostle Peter said,
“When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (I Peter 5:4; p. 1315).
I can see you in my mind, beautiful and forever young, in your resurrected body, kneeling before Jesus (the chief Shepherd) with a “crown of glory” on your brow. I wish I could give it to you now. But I am only a man. I gave you a hard life – but Christ Himself will give you a “crown of life” and a “crown of glory.”
I know you admire the late Queen Elizabeth II. But Jesus admires you even more than that good woman. She had only one jewel encrusted crown. But you, my ever-faithful wife, will have two bejewelled crowns. I can hardly wait to see your coronation on that day!
Amen. And today we all say – Happy Birthday, Mrs. Hymers!