Sermons that (Don’t) Work

There is a popular preaching resource in the Episcopal Church called “Sermons that Work.” Given the general state of preaching prowess throughout the land you might consider this to be oxymoronic. Or, if you are a preacher, you may be considering plagiarism. Below are the opening lines of actual sermons. And, no, they don’t work.

Research shows that if you don’t grab the listener in the first 15 seconds, you’ve lost him/her. Pray that the bulletin announcements are compelling reading.

I. “May I speak in the name of God, Giver, Forgiver and Lover. Amen.” – Hanover, New Hampshire.

Is that rhetorical? Oh, I see, it’s a statement. I think the politically correct term is “partner” – “lover” is passé. Does saying ‘Amen’ mean you’re finished? One could only hope.

II. “The pastor was greeting folks at the door after the service. A woman said, “Pastor, that was a very good sermon.” The pastor says, “Oh, I have to give the credit to the Holy Spirit.” “It wasn’t THAT good!” she says… By Friday I had multiple false starts for the sermon this Sunday…and by the end of the day… I had written two complete sermons… I settled on the second one to preach…even though I thought it was a bit weak…yesterday morning…I woke up…chucked it and tried again…What I ended up with was a collection of various quotes and musings – let’s see.” – Anaconda, Montana.

This is the tired-joke-and-then-minimize-the-expectations approach. Any time you preach about preaching, you’re doomed. Nice use of the ellipsis, however.

III. “The reputation of Jesus was according to which one of these? The apostles, the Sanhedrin, Josephus, the Jewish historian, the Romans, or the Christians? The answer would be “all the above”.” – Janesville, Wisconsin.

Snore alert. I can watch Jeopardy on my own time. Though if the ushers distributed Number 2 pencils and an answer sheet with the bulletin, filling out the “all of the above” bubble would be a nice distraction.

IV. “The story of Mary and Martha is one of the most well known stories of the New Testament. It is often presented as a reminder to take time from the busyness of life to listen to the voice of God. Considered from the perspective of Jungian psychology, Mary, Martha, and Jesus the Lord symbolize energies within our psyche/soul.” — Denver, North Carolina

It’s a well known story? Really? Why are you telling me this? And why ruin it with psycho-babble? “Energies within our psyche/soul.” Bah!

V. “In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a story about a farmer who produced a particularly abundant share of crops, and the farmer built a barn to store all of the excess, intending to use those extra crops at a later date. The farmer was storing up for the future, preparing for a time when the harvest might not be plentiful.” — Leesburg, Virginia.

Stop! We were there! There’s no need to reiterate every word of what we just heard. Do you think you’re preaching to a bunch of sheep? (don’t answer that). But I know that I automatically stop listening when a preacher begins with the words “In today’s reading…”

That all for today’s version of “Sermons that (Don’t) Work.” If you would like future commentary on the state of preaching in the Anglican Communion speak now or forever hold your peace.

Yours in the Lord,

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