The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The sermon

I tend to believe that the sermon is the least important thing that happens in worship. Sure, many of us preachers tend to spend way more time writing sermons than we spend preparing the prayers of the people; way more time writing sermons than we spend writing eucharistic prayers; way more time writing sermons than we spend choosing hymns or reading Scripture or coordinating with the altar guild to make sure the sanctuary is appropriately adorned.

Despite how much time we spend on the sermon, I still believe it's the least important thing we do as worship leaders. Not that the sermon is unimportant. Quite the opposite. The sermon is important because it's an obvious and tangible way that our corporate worship connects us to contemporary life. But it's not the only way.

I've often said that the only way I get anything out of the sermon is if I preach it. And then it's usually in the preparation. I listen to plenty of sermons, but it's rare that I remember anything from any of them. On occasion (maybe one time out of 100), I will be moved by a sermon. Not that there's anything wrong with the preacher or the preaching — it's just not how I've always connected with God. I've always been much more inclined to encounter the divine in the poetry and music of song as opposed to the spoken word. Further, the rhythmic back-and-forth of proclamation and response verse of liturgical worship can occasionally draw me into a holy communion in ways that sermons never have.

Beyond all that, when I preach I fully expect my words to be flawed. I expect the Spirit to do divine work through my words, and I do not take the role of preacher lightly — but my words will be flawed. They're probably not as important as some in the congregation make them out to be. Isn't it enough to be together with the community, encounter the living Christ through story and word and meal and song and community?

Sure, preaching is important. But if that baby in front of you is screaming and you can't hear the sermon, maybe it's God trying to get your attention. Maybe today God doesn't have anything to say to you through the sermon; maybe God's message is to be found in the child who some would call a distraction.

When will we move beyond the marketplace question of “What do I get out of worship?” and on to the communal question: “How are we being church together today?”


Charles Freitag

Charles Freitag

Posted at 12:10 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/18/2012

Paul & Mary Knapp

Paul & Mary Knapp

Posted at 1:38 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/19/2012

Amen and amen.  I suspect Pastor Matthew's sermons are better than most, too.

Douglas Bell

Douglas Bell

Posted at 10:50 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/23/2012

Hear, hear!  (Pun intended)  It's great to see this from a clergyman.  I'm a layman who rarely, if ever, can remember anything from a sermon and who almost always drifts off to other thoughts during them.  I always thought this might be a subconscious rebellion against listening to years of class lectures or enforced childhood attendance, but maybe it's natural for some of us.  I have freinds, however, who always seem to say later in the week they thgouht back to something the pastor said, so don't give up just yet.  Three cheers, too, for praise of the liturgy; for me the most moving and spiritually connecting part of worship  (though it's hard to beat a good old Wesley brothers hymn, too).


Doug Bell

Holy Trinity


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February issue


Embracing diversity