Preaching may be classified as daring, exciting, or provocative. All to often it is dogmatic, unexceptional, and just plain punishing. Preachers must give their best shot with much preparation and prayer on the front end. Our best approach is to place ourselves and our sermons in God’s hands.
Despite our best efforts a sermon can go wrong. Length is generally not the problem. I once preached for about twelve minutes and one of the altar guild ladies said we would like you to keep it under ten. At another time and in another church I preached for more than an hour and no one realized how long the sermon was until it was time to go home and they looked at their watches. The Apostle Paul once preached all night and had to resurrect one of his listeners who fell asleep and out of a window. He didn’t let a small distraction stop him.
A big mistake is to preach another person’s sermon. We need to be personally involved in the sermon and preparation. The sermon is about the Gospel but it must be a Gospel that we have grasped and that has grasped us. Rehashing an old sermon is also a no-no. It may have been a good sermon but it will not be fresh and we should not ask the Holy Spirit to anoint our lazy effort.
Topical sermons are interesting. When I started preaching I used to have a sermon input group to help me study the lectionary readings each week. One week the group was excited about Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. I was careful to incorporate it into the readings where I thought it might be relevant. It was one of my best and most polished sermons. It was elegant, though not on the par with Lincoln’s speeches. After the service I went to the social gathering which we called the coffee hour. As I entered the room I heard a great deal of quarreling. The Spirit spoke to me: “Are you happy with your sermon? You have reignited the Civil War.”
There are special occasions such as Mother’s Day when it is highly appropriate to mention mothers and the love of mothers. Nonetheless, the whole sermon should not just be about mothers. As wonderful as they are their love is it does not usher us into the Kingdom of God without the love of Jesus. The Apostle Paul vowed to preach nothing but Christ and Christ crucified. But he could preach a long time on that apparently.
First and foremost we must be excited about the sermon ourselves. We must be enthusiastic about it and preach with enthusiasm. The derivation of “enthusiasm” is “God breathed.” Our sermons must come from God. We must hear them for ourselves and we should preach to ourselves. We should never preach down to the congregation. Nonetheless, we are to inspire them and ourselves to rise up and meet God.
One of the worst things we can do is give a rule based sermon – a sermon of does and don’ts without any good news that God loves us. We should preach more about what God wants to do for us, if we let Him, than about what we must do for God. A sermon without a Gospel message is just a lecture.
Preaching takes practice. We must know the sermon before we deliver it. We should never read it. Jonathan Edwards read his sermons but we are not Jonathan Edwards. We must tell the sermon like we would a story. A good sermon is a good story. Some of our parishioners are hoping it is a short story. The shortest sermon requires the most preparation. A children’s homily requires the most preparation of all. I once had a circuit court judge come to all my children’s homilies. I asked him why he did not attend the main Sunday service and he said he could understand the children’s homily better.
God bless you in your preaching. Please share some of your thoughts on preaching and your experiences in this most sacred trust.