So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. Nehemiah 8:8
Dear Friends in Christ,
My Thursday email messages since last August have generally covered topics of the different elements of our worship services (see previous emails here). If you’ve missed these, come to the 8AM or 10:30 services this weekend when we will have “Instructed Eucharists,” framing sections of our liturgy with brief explanations of what we are doing and why. Rather than interrupt our worship of God, this should enhance our worship of God, helping us to more deeply enter into the liturgy. The sermon will be brief to keep the duration in our normal range.
But why have a sermon in our service at all? Many protestant traditions have services that are all about the sermon—the sermon is the service in many places. In Catholic and Orthodox tradition, Communion and the prayers dominate the service, and the sermon is reduced in emphasis. Different worshippers come with different expectations about preaching. Some expect to be taught more information about the Biblical text. Some expect to hear some commentary on culture or politics or social justice. Some expect to hear a poetic reflection on prayer and spirituality. Others expect a pleasant story or some good jokes.
Sermons can include many of these elements. Two broad assumptions about worship are sometimes described as “monastic” and “cathedral” worship. “Monastic” worship intends to be more oriented toward teaching as part of a regular rhythm of personal development. “Cathedral” worship intends to be more about proclamation, more about engaging the public in connection to timely holidays or seasons. In a parish, preaching should have a little of both.
In the Episcopal Church, our Sunday liturgy covers a broad territory. It is not intended to be solely a dressed-up lecture. It’s orientation is toward God more than toward the people in the pews. The service is primarily prayer (spoken and sung) and sacraments. Those prayers and sacraments are supported by quite a lot of Holy Scripture (not just a verse or two). And here is where the sermon comes in.
Preaching in the Episcopal Church’s liturgy is based on holy scripture, and preached within the context of the Eucharist. Our preaching tends to be more about proclamation of the Good News of Jesus in a fresh way. We talk about sin and what’s wrong, and we talk about what God has done and is doing to set things right, and how God blesses us and invites us to share in that Good News. Preachers should engage the text of scripture, help the hearers understand scripture, and help us to hear the voice of the Living God from scripture. Preachers engage the world of the text, and the world of the congregation so that we can see God in action in our lives.
All of which can be summed up with good humor by this axiom: a good sermon is about two things: about God, and about 10-15 minutes…
But it will be shorter this week—actually the sermon will be spread out throughout the service, helping us to learn and grow and bring ourselves to God more fully. See you this weekend!
Yours in Christ,