Monday, July 26, 2010

If only sermons were dictated from heaven

Some continuing reflection on getting sermons right.

For this Sunday past I found my sermon preparation went something like this:

Good idea for sermon re connecting it with well-known current event.

Drift through the week confident that the good idea would 'work', going over likely text in my mind from time to time.

Get to some serious writing later in the week.

Emerging feeling that the 'good idea' was not working well, but press on with draft writing.

Complete draft and feel it is not quite 'there'.

Eventually make a decision: drop 'good idea' and work the sermon in a different direction.

Incidentally, this meant allowing the text of Scripture to play a more prominent role in the content of the sermon.

Ultimately the sermon as delivered seemed to work well (praise God).

What do I learn from this?

(1) Underlining of the importance of writing down what I think I am going to say: this forces me to look at what I think is going to 'work' in a different light, to review it, and if necessary to change it.

(2) Listen to feelings sooner rather than later: on reflection my feeling that the good idea was not such a good idea could have been attended to earlier, with a decision made so that the final text was being worked on earlier in the week.

(3) The text of Scripture. The text of Scripture. The text of Scripture. Repeat after me, "the text of Scripture should drive the sermon preparation forward more than anything else!"

You can see from this that I find the greatest challenge in preaching is preparation. If only sermons were dictated from heaven ... but then, God was trying to say something to me, both through his written Word, and through prompting of the Spirit. I was not a very good listener!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bass guitar versus written liturgy

I am enjoying the opportunity Christchurch presents to participate in a large variety of evening services, something not possible in my previous diocese where (as far as I knew) only four parishes had regular evening services (though I understand the count is now up to five). Here in Christchurch city alone I have visited seven different evening services, and have at least four more to experience.

Most of the services I have been to are characterized by 'youth': youth band, youth led, even youth preachers, and lots of young people in the congregations.

It is very, very encouraging to see such a large number of young adults gathering in Christ's name to worship God and to listen to God's Word proclaimed.

Not unexpectedly most of the youth oriented services involve music bands, and the sound thumps along very nicely with bass guitar, drums, keyboard and (sometimes) an assortment of other instruments.

It may be me and the generation I grew up in, but I like this form of music, its rhythm and beat. It can transport me to heaven as well as a choir singing enchanted classical music accompanied by the organ.

Mostly, of course, the choral approach is associated with written liturgy: "Evensong" or "Choral Eucharist". Mostly the bass guitar approach is not. The songs are the liturgy. The bass guitar is the engine driving the soul heavenwards.

Ultimately the divide between the two forms can be reconciled in certain ways, not least though young people growing older and making transitions to written liturgies.

But not all make the transition. And it could be a mistake to extrapolate from "my" experience of growing older to this generation's youth and their likely future experience.

While I have argued previously here (and elsewhere) that current ACANZP's liturgical rubrics and canonical rules permits an extraordinary range of liturgical possibilities, I do continue to wonder if there is a way in which ACANZP might offer specific affirmation of the 'bass guitar' approach!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Getting Sermons Perfect

On Saturday night past the All Blacks, for around 75% of their game against the Sringboks played as near a perfect game of rugby as can be imagined, and overall achieved the perfect result of a four try to nil tries, bonus point win in the Tri-Nations Series.

Perfection is possible.

I would like to preach perfect sermons. At the very least 'perfect' would mean 'I thought the sermon was perfect in every way: content, style, length, application, engagement with Scripture and life, centred on God in Christ, flowing with the Spirit, convicting, convincing, and coherent.'

Last Sunday my sermon was less than perfect. Preaching it twice on Sunday morning meant I was able to make some (impromptu) improvements between the first delivery and the second delivery.

What could have been better?

Here are some things:

- the whole sermon more tightly wound around the central idea of the sermon

- shorter sentences

- better connection between the biblical character I focused on (the lawyer asking the question at the beginning of Luke 10:25-37) and humanity today.

Well, it turns out that I have been asked to preach this coming Sunday as well, with the opportunity to continue the Lukan sequence, 10:38-end.

Another opportunity to improve.

The All Blacks, incidentally, play the Springboks again this Saturday evening. They may need to play a perfect game for 100% of the time in order to repeat their victory!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Pertinent on Preaching

Lovely post on preaching, helpful on homilies, by Bosco Peters. Read here. One slight demur on my part is "eight minutes" for a sermon ... I think "ten minutes" would be fine for a shorter sermon! His main source is a fine RC publication. Here is a para with Bosco's own tips:

"Two hints: in my sermons I normally try to include something to think about, something that touches the heart, something to do.

If you use a full text, I once read the helpful suggestion that in rehearsing it you read the last paragraph, then the last two paragraphs, then the last three, until you reach the start of your sermon – that way as you get further into actually preaching it you reach increasingly well-rehearsed material."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

More on Effective Preaching

Thinking a bit harder this week about my sermon, and the dynamics of preparing it, in the light of my forthcoming workshop on 'effective preaching.'

Thought One: the work of the Holy Spirit enables effective preaching ... working in me the preacher ... inspiring the words I will say ... illuminating the text of Scripture in the congregation ... convicting the congregation of the truth of God's Word proclaimed through me.

Thought Two: most weeks I get so far with my sermon draft(s) and hit a kind of wall. This is not very good, I conclude. It needs improvement. Happened this week. What happened in the final revision? (1) I reread the text of Scripture (2) I let the text drive the content of my sermon more than in the drafts to date.

Summary: Word and Spirit; Spirit and Word ... ask the Holy Spirit to help, let the text speak through the sermon!