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,

Bad Window of the Day

I’ll title this most recent ecclesiastical atrocity the “Boy in a Bubble Window.” The head of our dear Lord appears to be hermetically sealed in some sort of space helmet. I nearly called this one the “Buzz Aldrich Window” in recognition of the NASA space program. The good news is that if Mary drops the child or one of the Magi accidentally spills hot frankincense coals on him, the baby Jesus will be protected. The bad news is that Joseph might get upset and it appears, based on his ripped forearms with bulging veins, that ‘roid rage might be an issue.

Bad Window of the Day

I have nothing against preppy lads. Some of my parish’s greatest pledgers are preps of the first order. When not in church they can be found with Bloody Marys in their hands cutting bold figures in the oak-lined halls of the country club. Which, as I think about it, reminds me a lot of my vesting sacristy (minus the moose heads on the wall).

However, regardless of the size of the pledge, I am quite certain that there were no Princeton-educated, squash racket-toting preppies at the Last Supper. Unless you believe this window which I have aptly titled “What is a Preppy doing in the Upper Room?” Check out the guy in brown. His green garment is tossed over his shoulders like a V-neck tennis sweater on a guy named Trip. His face oozes trust fund and his hair would make David Hasselhoff proud.

I won’t even get into the placement of Jesus’ left hand. This window is both odd and ugly. Which is quite a feat even for my own high standards. Other observations are welcome.

Bad Window of the Day

It’s been awhile since I’ve offered you a “Bad Window of the Day.” You have most likely been waiting both patiently and prayerfully in an ongoing vigil. This one I will call the “Russian Roulette Window.” Spin the wheel on this nine-shooter and be blown away by any one of the hideous images. Some are identifiable as ancient Christian symbols (albeit poorly rendered); others appear to be the random whim of the “artist.” If you encounter this window in a place of worship — not that my gentle readers would ever be in such a position — I would advise you to duck and cover.

Welcome to the Incense Cellar

Entrance to my home Incense Cellar (note the fine cabernet outside the door)

Many of you have inquired about my world-renowned incense cellar. While I only admit specially trained curates, I graciously have decided to offer my extended congregation a one-time peek behind the wall of smoke.

Before this journey begins, I would remind you that to covet is a sin. I would also add that until scratch-‘n-sniff blogging software is available you will not receive the full impact of the incense cellar’s majesty. The aroma is heavenly.

I possess, of course, a wide range of incenses. The rarest are in direct apostolic succession to the frankincense of the Magi. The majority are 16th century blends that I keep in locked, temperature-controlled boxes. These are used on feast days devoted to our Lady.

Modern blends are trickier as many smell like undercroft urinals — hardly worthy of my fine, antique thurible collection. Fortunately, I keep a junior curate on staff whose sole function is to scour the globe in search of blends worthy of the celebration of Solemn High Mass.

The incense itself is used in my magnificent parish church as well as my home oratory. Matching feast days to particular blends is a high calling of which few, if any, are worthy.

Yours in the Lord,

Liturgical Acolyte Screener (LAS)

First Generation LAS

Tired of sloppily dressed acolytes? Annoyed by the wearing of untied red Converse Hightops? Does the latest Jay-Z ringtone interrupt the flow of liturgy? We’ve solved this problem by installing the Liturgical Acolyte Screener in the narthex. Manned by highly-trained LAS professionals who are personally trained by the parish verger, acolytes are required to walk through the LAS prior to processions.

The device picks up uncombed hair (offenders are directed to a grooming station before reentering the screening process); cottas in disarray; ringtones that fail to match the opening hymn; footwear that is any color other than black; bad attitudes (surly acolytes are sent to the attitude adjustment station staffed by members of the altar guild – if they don’t shape up they are required to remain with the altar guild for the duration of the liturgy; we no longer have acolytes with bad attitudes); and bad posture.

Trained professional monitors the LAS

With cutting edge technology, the LAS can distinguish between a thurible and an i-Phone. The thurible passes; the i-Phone is confiscated. It also picks up tie-dyed stoles and guitars. We keep confiscated items in a locked closet off the narthex. Phones are returned after the service while ugly or inappropriate vestments are burned. Needless to say cassock-albs are cast into the fiery furnace.

I hope you will consider having an LAS installed at your church. The weeping and gnashing of teeth is a small price to pay for liturgical correctness.

Coming soon is the Organ Zapper, or OZ, that immediately shuts down any organ that plays “It is I Lord” or anything composed after 1900 unless it is in the  Hymnal 1982 or 1940. It also ejects the offending organist into the outer darkness.

Yours in the Lord,

Bad Window of the Day

Safe Church Violation Window

This window depicting the sacrament of Confirmation must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The donor may have pondered several choices: “I could memorialize the Parable of the Good Samaritan or Moses handing down the 10 Commandments or give parishioners a foretaste of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.” Unfortunately, option number three was chosen and thus we have the church’s first “Safe Church Violation Window.” Just be glad it is not in your memory that this gift was made.

The Home Oratory: Unprecedented Access!

Many of you have asked about my home oratory and thus I am offering this exclusive sneak peak. Whenever I am not leading grand cathedral-style liturgy or drinking sherry I am often found leading an exemplary life of devotion in the sacred confines of my oratory. It is a place that embodies the rhythms of the liturgical year; a place where all things are done decently and in good order according to the ancient practices of good taste and high churchmanship.

Of course the only way to fully experience the holiness of my home oratory is to be invited to serve at the altar. Don’t hold your breath. Nonetheless I trust that this preview will be an inspiration and provide sustenance on your journey with our Lord. And I beg you not to be intimidated by the sheer beauty and liturgical correctness. Neither Rome nor my home oratory were built in a day.

Obviously Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is an integral part of home oratory life. As you can see, my monstrance exudes eucharistic piety.

Please do not be jealous of my 13th century German chalice and paten. It is not comely to covet. Of course I have a gold straw to prevent the spilling of our Lord’s blood — there was enough spillage of holy blood upon the cross itself. We need not add to the sin.

My Sanctus bells are an integral part of mass. They announce that the Supper of the Lamb is about to be served. One might question whether a eucharist is even valid without the ringing of Sanctus bells.

I apologize for not being able to offer a clearer picture of my beautiful, hand-crafted, jewel encrusted antique thurible. It is difficult to photograph as it is always smoking. If you look closely at this picture you can see just a glimpse.

That’s enough detail for now. I do not want to overwhelm all of you with such a stunning example of worship in the beauty of holiness.

If you are considering a home oratory I am available for aesthetic and liturgical consultation.

Bad Window of the Day

Bad Memories From Catholic School Window

Far from drawing the viewer into a heightened spiritual state, this window is enough to make any former Roman Catholic cringe in fear (not that I am anything less than a “cradle” Anglican mind you). If it suddenly came to life, Nun-zilla would be chasing after you with a giant metal ruler followed by her coterie of lesser nuns. As in the window, nuns seem to be popping up from out of everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Enjoy this Bad Window of the Day but remember to keep a full arm’s length between you and anyone you might encounter in the next 24 hours.

Bad Window of the Day

Internet Porn Window

Worshipers attend mass for spiritual not sensual arousal. I am not a prude (really) yet this window goes beyond the pale. And by pale I refer to flesh tones. Is it too much to ask for a single fig leaf? There’s enough pornography in the world today; the least we can do is keep it out of our stained glass windows. A good rule of thumb is that if the teenagers in your parish spend too much time staring at a particular window instead of focusing on the heavenly bodies, remove it.