Good Sermons

Have you heard any good sermons lately? Many people answer, “No.” If you are dissatisfied with the quality of preaching that you hear, you may be listening for the wrong thing. Here are some suggestions.

Observe Paul’s example. The Apostle Paul was a gifted speaker but by his own admission, he deliberately preached dull sermons. He explained that he tried to avoid “eloquent wisdom so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” (1 Corinthians 1:17)

Remember John’s Calvin’s advice: “listen to ministers, just as if (God) were addressing us.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV, i, 5) In other words, listen to a sermon with respect and wonder, not with skepticism. Try to listen with child-like faith.

Listen for a still, small voice. Elijah did not hear God through wind, earthquake or fire. It was by means of a small voice that Elijah heard God speak. (1 Kings 19: 11-13) In today’s terms, that might mean listening for the Word that comes across modestly, evenhandedly, in an unassuming manner, without razzle-dazzle.

Listen expectantly. Fred Rogers, the beloved Mr. Rogers of the children’s television show, told about listening to a dreary sermon. After the benediction, Mr. Rogers, a Presbyterian preacher, was ready to criticize the sermon as one of the worst ever. Before he could speak, however, his friend told how much the sermon meant to him. Mr. Roger’s friend had listened expectantly and was deeply moved by the sermon. Even a “bad” sermon can be a means of transformation when we are expectant.

Take a long-term approach. The Common Lectionary uses three years to cover biblical narratives and themes. Similarly, the Heidelberg Catechism devotes four years to convey a wide view of God and a Christian life. Low points of doctrine are needed, as well as high points, in order to cover the whole counsel of God.

Ponder the sermon later. In your coming and going, during the following week, prayerfully consider what was said. Spend time contemplating the speaker’s use of Scripture and theology. Pay attention to your emotional responses. Ask yourself, “At this point in my life, with what I am facing right now, how does hearing this sermon change or speak to my distinctive needs?”

Clarify your expectations. I f you want entertainment, don’t go to church. Hollywood and Broadway feature better-looking actors and fasterpaced drama. On the other hand, if you are willing to encounter God in the most common manner in which God has reliably chosen to speak, then go to church and listen to a sermon. Clarify your expectations and you won’t be disappointed.

Edward H. Schreur is pastor of the Greenville Community Church in Scarsdale, New York.