On Retiring a Sermon

Unlike a lot of you, I don’t have to prepare a sermon each week. In fact, I only have to prepare two or three a year. And I’ve usually got one that’s my go-to sermon. When I’m asked to preach on a particular topic or text, I prepare something original. When I’m not, I go to the go-to.

I realize this is a luxury. I’ve gotten to deliver this sermon in many venues over many months. I know the jokes that work. I don’t need to use notes. I have the scripture text memorized. I have completely internalized the message, and I am confident in its delivery.

The sermon I’ve been living with the last couple years is based on Mark 9:2-10, in which Jesus is transfigured. I think I found a particularly interesting exegetical hook, in that Mark records Peter’s odd statement — “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us build three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — and there is no response from Jesus. In fact, Mark records a rare omniscient narrator comment: “He said this because they were so afraid that they didn’t know what to say.”

The hook is that Peter expresses the very human desire to hang on to the intense spiritual moment that he was having — he wanted to institutionalize it, even if only for a few more moments. Even more interesting is that Jesus doesn’t respond. In fact, it’s the only time in all four Gospels in which Jesus doesn’t respond when directly spoken to.

This Sunday, I will give this sermon for the last time.

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Sermons You Won’t Hear in Church

Geez Magazine is running their second sermon contest: 30 (More) Sermons You’ll Never Hear in Church:

Winnipeg, Canada – The social gospel is on an upswing, and the crowd-moving sermon deserves another chance. Geez magazine is calling on the un-churched and over-churched for holy admonitions from the fringes of faith.

The sermon has become a stage where white men with white hair preach condescending three point clichés. Self-help sermonizing has made the plea for social justice passé. While those in the pews may be entertained other pressing issues of our day remain unaddressed – income disparity, ecological devastation, rampant consumerism, class privilege – these are all gospel concerns that suffer from neglect.

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The Future of Preaching

In the world of homiletics, not much has changed since Charles Wesley delivered monological sermons.

I’m sitting in the Buckhead Theater in Atlanta, about the take the stage with Doug Pagitt to talk about the future of preaching. We’re at the Festival of Homiletics, the premier conference about traditional preaching. The program is basically sermon-lecture-sermon-lecture. A person preaches, then later they give a lecture about what they were trying to do in their sermon. There’s also some singing peppered in between.

As you might guess, Doug and I will be delivering a different message.

We live in the most highly educated society and the most highly participatory culture in the history of humankind. Everything around us has changed: the clothes we wear, the way we transport ourselves, how we communicate.

And yet, 99% of preachers stand up on Sunday morning and deliver a monologue. A soliloquy.

And their churches decline. And they wring their hands.

There is another way. There is a way of participation and inclusion and dialogue and conversation.

That’s what Doug and I will propose this morning.

I wonder if anyone will listen.

National Episcopal Preaching Conference

Next month, I’ll be at the beautiful Kanuga Conference Center for the first time, along with Shane Hipps, Lauren Winner, and others. Join us there for a great week about new forms of preaching:

NATIONAL EPISCOPAL PREACHING CONFERENCE — RECASTING THE SERMON: WHAT LANGUAGE SHALL WE BORROW?

APRIL 23, 2012 – APRIL 26, 2012

How is a sermon heard in our day? How might our sermons receive a better hearing?

What is the place of social media, technology and innovation in the contemporary proclamation as we tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love?

Co-sponsored with the Episcopal Preaching Foundation, the third annual National Episcopal Preaching Conference will inspire clergy and seminarians to improve their preaching by exploring emerging patterns of proclamation.

All participants will share in a mix of worship, lecture and discussion. Workshops will be offered on technology, social media, collaborative preaching and improvisation.

An emphasis also will be put on small preaching groups, led by faculty of the Foundation’s annual Preaching Excellence Program, where sermons will be reviewed and critiqued.

“Everyone will bring a sermon to preach in their small group of 10 or so preachers,” said the Rev. Dr. William Brosend, conference coordinator. “The feedback will help their future preaching, as will the chance to hear our keynote speakers and other colleagues.”

Conference speakers will share what drives their preaching and how they stay inspired to make their messages reach a constantly evolving audience.

More info and registration here: Kanuga Conferences.


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