Monday, April 15, 2013

In Defense of Sermons

I've seen this thread surface in a variety of places, all stemming from the below post in Patheos:

The sermon?  She is dead.

The idea behind this is rather simple.  We no longer process information in lecture format.  Someone gets up?  Talks for a while?


We need snickity snackity multimedia interactivity!  None of this blah blah talkiness!  No one thinks this way, or processes information this way, we say.   This is teh age of teh inter webs, we say!  Time for us to reconsider the sermon!

I'll freely admit there are other forms of worship, ones that are more relational and conversational.  We should explore these, and celebrate them.  Praise?  Bring it.  Contemplative worship?  Absolutely.  Let a thousand flowers bloom.

But into that mix we need to consider how badly the oldline often fails to grasp the place of the sermon in the first place.  Oh, we do them.  But do we really know how to do them?

Because honey child, in the Big Parking Lot Churches where most folks now go to get their church on, the sermon is alive and well.  AmeriChrist, Inc. isn't doing away with it any time soon.  Those big shiny Jesus Nordstroms?  They're as culturally relevant as it gets, and still, there it is.  The sermon.  Oh, sure, they repackage it as a "message."  But a rose by any other name still smells as sweet.

The issue here may not be that we no longer need the "sermon."  It may be that we've forgotten the importance of the spoken word.  I say this not as the world's greatest preacher.  Just give our podcasts a listen.  I mean, I'm OK.  Perhaps above average, in that Prairie Home Companion sort of way.

But my ability to deliver an effective sermon wasn't even considered as I worked my way through the ordination process.  It wasn't even a factor.  Oh, I had to submit an exegesis, and a homiletic treatment of said exegesis, which were then assessed as if they were a graduate-level written assignment.

I never once had to get up there and preach it.   Not once.   My capacity to convey the goodness of the Gospel through the spoken Word wasn't even a factor as folks considered my ability to be a pastor.

This struck me as a nontrivial oversight at the time.

The focus of the Patheos article approaches proclamation using a similar frame, that of academe.  That oldliners - Presbyterians particularly - use an academic lens to understand preaching is a significant part of our failing on that front.  A sermon should bear no resemblance to a lecture.  It is not a lecture.  It is not a carefully constructed academic discourse, in which information is conveyed and everyone takes notes so they'll be ready for the test later.  This is how we learn in college, or was.

Sermons exist to delight, enlighten, persuade, and inspire.  Data transfer is subordinate.  That, we can do through blogging, or books, or classes.  Those forms work better for conveying information relationally.

Preaching, brothers and sisters, preaching should not feel like a droning lecture.  Think of it like a TED talk.  Or Jon Stewart's opening monologue.  Or it should feel like spiritual standup.  Or it should feel like sacred beat poetry.  It is more akin to music, or to storytelling.  There should be laughing.  With, and not at, preferably.

I'm just not quite ready to give that up.