I have been a regular “every week” preacher for almost 20 years. That is, conservatively speaking, more than 1,000 sermons. If the average attendance for those sermons was 100 people, that would be 100,000 “listens.”
I suspect these 1,000+ sermons follow a pretty typical bell-shaped curve: some great, some awful, most in the middle somewhere. I have learned over time, that I am not the best judge of my sermons’ effectiveness. Sermons that I thought were great, occasionally get no reaction at all. Sermons that I thought were an epic failure, sometimes get rave reviews.
Once I gave a sermon that I thought was great, but no one said anything about it afterward. So then I concluded that it was horrible, until someone quoted long sections of it back to me 6 months later and told me how helpful it had been. Now I try to not think or worry about it. The Spirit will do what the Spirit will do.
So I’m not the best judge, but I do have some opinions. Christmas and Easter sermons are always hard to write, usually come together, and often get lost in the hubbub of the day. Ash Wednesday and Maundy-Thursday sermons are easy to write and powerful in the context of their respective liturgies. Holy Trinity and Palm Sunday sermons are always difficult and sometimes don’t come together. Sermons for Reformation Sunday and All Saints’ Sunday are usually fun. Wedding sermons are simple and often forgettable.
The best sermons seem to be written for and delivered at funerals. This is the opinion of a lot of preachers. Why is this?
1. At a funeral people are really listening. Someone has died and for few days, things are held in their proper perspective: life and death are more important than work, politics, sports, stuff, etc., etc., etc. At a funeral people want to hear a word of hope and promise.
2. At a funeral, those gathered include both members and non-members. The non-members give the preacher some respect as the community’s designated ‘expert’ of the faith. Meanwhile the members are usually thankful for his or her leadership during a funeral. Everyone is hoping the preacher succeeds at a funeral.
3. At a funeral, we are gathered around a shared love for the deceased and his or her family. Our bond is clear, strong and explicit.
4. At a funeral, we sit closer to the front and closer to each other. This happens in part because the family is ushered to the front pews. It happens in part because we want and need to be a little closer to each other. Sometimes it happens because the room is full.
So the collected listeners are different at a funeral; and the preacher is different too. He or she is more focused. He or she really wants to proclaim a clear word for the family, friends and neighbors who are mourning a loss. And the preacher is elevated by the more attentive and supportive group of listeners.
I wonder what we could learn from the typical funeral, to make every gathering and sermon a little better?
1. Are there things we can do to help people be better more focused listeners?
2. Are there things we can do to help people be more supportive of the preacher, even if we don’t agree with him or her on everything or always appreciate his or her leadership?
3. How can we increase the degree to which we feel connected as members of a congregation?
4. Can we help people sit a little closer to the front and each other?
If you have comments or ideas about any of this, I would like to hear them. Our worship leaders try to make every gathering as effective as possible, so that people can worship and be strengthened for their work in the world.
If you have enjoyed or endured any of my sermons lately, thank you. Preachers like to preach; and the Holy Spirit is at work.
Copyright © 2019 Pastor Bill Bernau. All rights reserved.