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Sunday after Sunday, you are probably either preaching a sermon or listening to one being preached. Preaching is a centerpiece of worship in most Christian traditions. In many Protestant congregations, the sermon often anchors everything else that happens during the worship service. And, for better or for worse, the perception of the service often hangs on the hearer’s evaluation of the sermon. With all the effort that goes into sermon preparation and the importance we ascribe to preaching, those of us who undertake this task on a weekly basis must always ask a critical question: What should sermons do?

Are sermons just like any other oral presentation? A Harvard Business Review article titled “How to Give a Killer Presentation” makes a compelling claim about what happens when someone speaks to an audience. The article says, “A successful talk is a little miracle — people see the world differently afterward.” If our sermons help people see the world differently, we certainly have done something right. But is “seeing the world differently” enough?

Hear these words from Jesus’ first sermon: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

Yes, preaching does change the way we see the world. Yet Jesus’ preaching reminds us that at their best, sermons cast a compelling vision of a new reality, and they invite us to participate with God in embodying that reality in the world. After Jesus proclaimed the good news in that first sermon, he said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). By God’s grace, proclamation and fulfilment are how we faithfully preach the gospel.


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Before you go…

Recently a member told me that I am not the same preacher I was when I came to the church six and a half years ago. I held my breath until I realized she meant this as a compliment. And I suppose this should always be the case. Preaching the gospel not only impacts those who hear the gospel, but also those who preach the gospel. The very act of proclaiming holy words should change the one who is called to such a task.

Preachers, let’s not ever lose sight of the significance of the sermon. The late Gardner C. Taylor once said that he always got a good night’s sleep on Saturday, because the least he could do was give the Lord a well-rested body to work with on Sunday morning. I agree.

You can always reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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