What's the matter with sermons today?


What's the matter with sermons today?

"The Sermon on the Mount" by Danish painter, Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)

I was recently visited by my insurance man who indicated to me that he was visiting St. John’s because the church he had been going to for the last thirty years had become a bit stale. Even though he socialized with his pastor and called him a good friend, he said that the sermons didn’t seem to be reaching him.

Sermons are an interesting phenomenon. They mean many things to many people. To the minister grinding them out every Sunday, or should I say writing them -- they are a constant challenge, a nagging headache and a ticking time bomb. As soon as you are done with one, the clock begins ticking toward the next.

Sermons to others, who listen, can be a moment when a glaze begins to cover your face and from those observing, you look like a deer caught in the headlights. To others, it is a moment to close your eyelids for a moment that seems to move on to many moments. I once asked someone about their eyes being shut while I was preaching and they said that there were just closing their eyes to concentrate and remove the distractions from their surroundings. Hmmm, I’d like to believe that they were telling the truth, but I remain suspicious.

To others, sermons are a topic for jokes. "Let’s keep it short this time, Pastor." Pastors are very sensitive when it comes to sermons and often defensive.

One of the great actors of our time is Philip Seymour Hoffman who is currently starring in the Arthur Miller play, "Death of a Salesman." He played the lead role in the movie "Doubt" where he was a priest. The film revolves around the question of a priest’s culpability and gives excellent insight into the life in a Roman Catholic parish.

In an interview, Hoffman talked about his own interpretation of the role. He said, "I did research by, among other things, going to church. As a kid, I was confirmed and I went to church, but I was bored. Now, I feel the opposite: a good sermon is just theater. It combines the political scene, the scriptures, and I thought, Hey, I could do it like that. It’s like a teacher getting up and saying, this is the school I come from."

Hoffman in his own brilliant way makes an observation that is lost on many. Luther often said that the Bible is not simply to be read but it is to be proclaimed. A "Viva Voce," a living voice that comes alive when it is proclaimed. Yes, it is theater; it’s fireworks; it’s drama, and it is as fresh as today’s news and in the pathos of it all, it becomes good news. It’s too bad that in the daily struggle that we ministers have, a lot of that passion gets lost because the day’s responsibilities, obligations and tasks nickel and dime all of the inspiration out of us.


Originally posted March 4, 2012, at Reflections. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Marvin Henk’s blog Reflections at Lutheran Blogs.

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