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The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

INSPIRATION OR COGITATION IN SERMONS

Inspiration or Cogitation in Sermons

Anglican sermons are boring. They are long on cogitation and short on inspiration. The sermons lack passion and preachers lack conviction. Now those are sharp criticisms and fail to note some exceptions. In the almost nine years I have been retired I have heard a lot of sermons while sitting in the pew. I am shocked at how few were inspirational and sadly, how few had any serious intellectual content either. I seldom have heard a serious doctrine or theory to cogitate on, nor heard a call to action.

Because my wife was raised Mormon, we have attended family events in Salt Lake City, Utah, over the years. The sermons and talks I heard in the wards and on the radio were always inspiring, heartfelt, personal and moving. I’ll admit few were intellectually stimulating.

Here is an example of a talk in a Mormon church one morning. A husband and wife were the assigned speakers and they were given a specific idea to speak on. This Sunday it was how “God helped me make a decision.” The young woman talked about how she and her husband decided to have a baby while he was still in dental school. God helped them make that decision, she said. She told two other short moving personal stories about how she made decisions with God’s help.

The young man told two stories and when he got to the third he had tears in his eyes. He did not think California Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage was a good thing. His Bishop, the equivalent of the rector or vicar, asked him to head a church committee supporting the ban. The young, man struggled with his decision, but said that God helped him do what his Bishop said to do.

That talk or sermon was powerful and moving to us even though we totally disagreed with the anti-same sex marriage sentiments expressed.

Two things made the talks powerful and inspiring. There was a specific point. God helps us make decisions. There were real human stories. We were moved by the power of the stories, painful, sad and joyful.

Jesus was an artist, a splendid storyteller. He did not preach theology. He told the story of getting the cow out of the ditch on the Sabbath. The Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son are among the most powerful stories in all of western civilization. Even the Sermon on the Mount was not a sermon but Matthew’s collection of various pithy teachings of Jesus.

In Salt Lake City I went to the Episcopal Cathedral there. The preacher spoke of the Biblical material, the liturgical reference, but never gave a story, or a personal reference. The call to action was that we should keep the Sabbath day as a day of rest. No suggestion on how to do it in a new or creative way. No story on how she keeps her Sabbath. In short no inspiration, no cogitation, not even information on how to keep the day of rest and worship in a busy world.

In the Saturday newspapers in Salt Lake City there are four pages of church news. Mormon news dominates, as it is the most populous church in that city. The news and announcements were inspirations, full of stories and events exciting the members to worship and good works.

However, in the announcements, ads or talks there were no announced Bible Study groups, discussion groups and plainly no room for doubt or social and political reflections on Christian theology or ethics. We do have that in our Episcopal Church and I rejoice in that. But the connection with the cogitation is seldom reflected in the sermons that come from the pulpit.

We can learn from the Mormons about our preaching. Select a text from the Bible then select a specific theme or point. Illustrate the point with stories from literature, movies, TV programs, newspaper accounts or your own personal experience. Connect the theme to a social or political event known to the congregation.

Text – “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple.”

Theme – The cost of being a follower of Jesus.

Stories – Find and tell a story about not being popular. Find another one about people being ridiculed for their faith. Find and tell story about how a person is free by being a follower of Jesus.

Call to Action – Write a letter to a judge who is deciding a capital punishment decree. Join a demonstration that is against war. In your men’s or women’s group or book club talk about the cost of being a Christian and follower of Jesus.

That should pep up the sermon and members of the congregation.

The Mormons are long on inspiration and they are growing and attracting people.

Anglican sermons can be very thoughtful, imaginative, personal, specific, full of stories and applications to the real lives of the people, and thus very inspirational.