Cromey Online

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

Thursday, June 08, 2006

How to make a Good Sermon Better

How to Make a Good Sermon Better

I have heard a lot of sermons in the last four and one half years since I retired. I go to church regularly, love to sing the hymns, listen to the choir, receive the sacrament in holy Eucharist and listen to the sermon. I am often disappointed in the preaching.

Sermons on the whole are well thought out and delivered, but I leave the church disappointed, with nothing memorable to carry away into the world I live in.

I can summarize the problems. Preachers use too much Biblical material, do not have a clear point or theme, are seldom concrete, use too few good stories with a universal theme and seldom contain a call to action.

The Biblical analysis is always sound and accurate. Most Episcopal Churches insist on having four Biblical readings, Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament and Gospel as prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. Many preachers try to mention and comment on two or three of the readings. That is very confusing to the average churchgoer. It is confusing to me as a seminary trained priest immersed in the scriptures. If it is confusing to me, imagine how the person in the pew feels who has little Biblical training. Choose one lesson and stick to it. Find the one point you want to make and stick to it.

Be concrete; relate the theme to actual events in the life of the people or in the world. Theme: The Holy Spirit in our lives. HS acts in and through our doctors, teachers and politicians as they do their work for humanity.

Jesus was an artist, a storyteller. Find a story that relates to the theme or point you want to make. The story will be what people remember, not the theme or point. Tell a story about a doctor, teacher or politician that illustrates the HS’s action.

End the sermon with a call to action, offer people something to do, to enlist in that derives from what you have said. Show the congregation how they may help a doctor, teacher or politician.

Sermons need a clear theme, drawn from a scripture assigned for the day. Commenting on one passage is plenty for the average churchgoer. The theme should be stated in one short sentence. If it cannot be stated in one sentence it is probably not clear and simple enough.

Concrete events, persons and actions make the sermon memorable. Jesus heals a woman who is sick. He goes to a wedding and sees the wine has run out. We want to know more right away when we hear that story. Jesus talks with a tax collector. His audience is immediately interested.

Tell a good story as Jesus did, over and over. A story can be about one’s self, a neighbor, something from the newspaper or TV.

Then suggest going into “the world to love and serve the Lord”…on a picket line, a management meeting, volunteer work or at home. The sermon that connects the gospel to what is going on in one’s personal life and the events of the world is a sermon that hits the heart and creates action.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Sex Crimes Unforgivable?

Sex crimes are unforgivable in California and probably the rest of the United States. Paroled sex offenders are nomads (SF Chronicle, June 2, 2006) not welcome in communities across the state. With so many people calling themselves Christian these days, it is astounding that so many fail to carry out a fundamental teaching of Jesus, forgiveness.

Paroled sex offenders need our forgiveness and compassion, not further rejection. If they do not receive love and affection in normal personal and community relations they are even more likely to offend again.

Christian Churches and other religious organization could offer community, dialogue and understanding to former offenders. Instead of persecution, religious and secular groups could welcome and offer conversations with parolees and get to see them as human beings. I don’t suppose that is too much to expect of all us imperfect persons.