I’ve been thinking lately about what makes a sermon really great, at least for me. As a Lutheran I’ve been taught that to be acceptable, any sermon needs both law and gospel — the law to convict us of our sin, and the good news of the gospel to free us from sin’s penalty. Those things are taken for granted and expected. It doesn’t matter how eloquent or interesting the preacher is — if he or she doesn’t provide those two things, it’s not a good sermon. In fact, it isn’t a sermon at all.
Of course, it helps if the preacher is interesting, and the message is delivered well. If you can’t hear the words, if points are not made clearly, the listeners won’t leave with a clear understanding of the Scripture.
Some sermons go beyond that. I love to learn new things, so I’m always happy when a sermon teaches me something I didn’t know before. That might be some historical background, or a new theological term. My husband’s sermons are famous (in a local sense) for this — he loves church history and people tell him he also “likes those big words.”
The very best sermons, however, make me realize that I must change. Not everybody like to hear this. It makes some people upset and angry. I truly don’t get it. Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be a journey? Aren’t we meant to change as we grow more like Christ? How can we mature in the faith if we’re not constantly confronting our own failures? That doesn’t mean feeling guilty and beating ourselves up (although some guilt is deserved) — it means being realistic and finding ways to take steps, even baby steps, in the right direction.
So, if you hear a sermon from the pulpit of your church that makes you uncomfortable or unsettled, that’s probably a good thing. Give thanks! Take it seriously! Try to change! It’s something we all need to do.
I wouldn’t mind hearing some comments from other readers and writers. What makes a sermon great in your opinion?
For more about sermons see:
Letters to My Students Vol. 1: On Preaching by Jason K. Allen–Book Review
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