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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.

Resources

‘To Speak a Defiant Word: Sermons and Speeches on Justice and Transformation’

The editor of a newly released collection of the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray’s works writes about the religious importance of America’s “problem child” in an adapted excerpt from the book’s introduction.

By Anthony B. Pinn

Preaching must speak into and transform our understanding of conflict

The Gospel of Mark teaches us how Jesus’ ministry and preaching crossed cultural and religious boundaries, says a preacher and pastor.

By William H. Lamar IV

That’s when the trouble starts

As Jesus, John the Baptist and M.L. King discovered, tell the truth, and that’s when the trouble starts, says the professor emeritus of preaching. Can the Christian witness make a dent in the culture of lies?

By Richard Lischer

Four tips for preaching on politically charged topics

The author of “Sacred Resistance” says it’s up to preachers to address the pain, injustice, confusion and chaos in our days even when it is risky, and she offers guidance on approaching controversial issues in meaningful and responsible ways.

By Ginger Gaines-Cirelli

Nobody will ever preach the gospel

Pastors are in the peculiar position of having to speak a word that is too big, says the Rev. Gardner C. Taylor in a video interview.


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


‘Leading and Thriving in the Church’: A new podcast from Alban at Duke Divinity

In the third episode of “Leading and Thriving in the Church,” Prince talks with Rhonda Brandon, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources officer for Duke University Health System.

Listen now!

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