NEW YORK -- Marking a milestone moment for American religion and world evangelicalism, the Rev. Billy Graham yesterday preached what could be his last revival sermon.
Graham told thousands of people gathered in Queens that he hopes ''to come back again someday," and that he told journalists who asked whether this is the end of his revival career, ''I never say never." His sermon appealing for decisions to follow Jesus emphasized that nobody knows the hour of death. Noting his own advanced age, he said, ''I know it won't be long."
Graham's voice was strong despite his infirmities, but he spoke for only 23 minutes before issuing his invitation to listeners to come forward and publicly demonstrate commitments to Jesus.
About 90,000 people flocked to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park despite blistering afternoon heat to hear his sermon. The expectation this would be Graham's last revival meeting hovered over the event all weekend.
''We are celebrating the end of 60 years of ministry with Billy Graham," said the Rev. A. R. Bernard, crusade chairman and pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn.
But out in the crowd, Ismael Rivera, a New York City firefighter, did not want to believe it was really the end. ''Hopefully, praise God, I'm sure he will go on," he said.
Joe Lin, a graduate student from Singapore, said he wanted to see Graham preach one last time. ''This is a historic moment," he said. ''Nobody has had such impact on the people."
Graham, 86, is suffering from fluid on the brain, prostate cancer, and Parkinson's disease. He uses a walker because of a pelvic fracture and is largely confined to his home in Montreat, N.C. He had said previously that the three-rally meeting ''will be the last in America, I'm sure."
The man known as America's pastor is considering a request to hold a rally in November in London, but Graham said chances are slim he will accept. His son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, said the elder Graham does not like to be away from his wife, Ruth, who is also in ill health.
Rice University sociologist William Martin, Graham's biographer, said he was struck by the diverse crowd. He recalled that in 1953, before the Supreme Court's school integration ruling, Graham ended racially segregated seating at his meetings in the South.
''There he took the ropes down," Martin said. ''And now all the barriers seem to be down."
The staff said that of an estimated 140,000 people attending Friday and Saturday nights, 5,582 registered Christian commitments upon Graham's invitation. Yesterday's total was to be announced later.