The sermon in context

The Rev. Jim Richardson, Priest-in-Charge

The sermon is one of the building blocks of the liturgy, and is meant to be heard in the context of the entire liturgy – the prayers, biblical lessons, music, and the Eucharistic prayer. The sermon does not stand alone as a separate speech.

The word “sermon” is Middle English and comes from the Latin, sermo. The word sermon means “conversation.” The sermon is not the “message” or “the remarks” or an academic lecture. The term “homily” also means sermon; it comes from the Greek word homilia.

The sermon comes right after the reading of the gospel and is meant to be heard in the context of the gospel and the other biblical lessons.

Every preacher has his or her own way of preparing a sermon, and his or her own idea of what makes a good sermon. This is my theory of the three basic elements that make a good sermon:

  • The sermon flows from the ancient story of our ancestors written in the Bible; the sermon tells us why that story is also our story. We carry this theme into the Eucharistic prayer.
  • The sermon tells us the Good News–the blessing–that is in the ancient story. That is not always so easy to find, but it is there if we look hard enough for it.
  • The sermon challenges us. What do we do with this? What do we take away with us that might transform us and the world where we live?

These three elements will be different each Sunday not only because the biblical lessons are different, but because we are different from Sunday to Sunday. This also means that the liturgical action of the sermon is not just the preacher delivering words, but is also how the listener hears these words. How you hear the sermon makes this not a monologue but a dialogue.