Reading is Believing?

Yesterday I gave the annual Stewardship Sermon at my congregation.

I thought I did a good job.  It was creative and incorporated a nice quick quote from Rabbi Irving Greenberg and another from Thoreau, as well as a skit during the second half featuring a member of the congregation as a carpenter.  Whether or not it was one of my best sermons, I’ll let others decide.  A member of my congregation (and member of the Stewardship Committee) thought enough of it to announce during the Stewardship Luncheon after church that it should be considered for the UUA Stewardship Sermon Award. He meant it because today I received an email from him saying “Go for it!” with a link to the UUA website about the sermon award.

I’m appropriately flattered.  No one mentioned the award after last year’s sermon. However, that’s not the point of this post.  I read about the guidelines for submission.  All they want is text in 12 point font.  I thought this strange. What about video or audio?  I thought what made my sermon different, unique, and effective was the carpenter skit in the second half.  Do I include the script for that?  Even if I did, can you really get the experience from reading the script without hearing the banging nails and sawing?

Granted, you can’t keep the contest anonymous if the preachers are on video, but really, who cares?  All sermons are given in context. We live in a post-modern age and part of what makes any sermon really effective (or not) is how well the preacher knows his or her audience.  It’s a sermon, not an essay.  Judging or evaluating a sermon solely on the basis of the text is like evaluating a song solely on the basis of the lyrics.  The lyrics might be fantastic, but the melody might be horrible.

Any sermon today can be captured on audio and turned into an mp3 by most cell phones. You don’t even need a laptop in the congregation.  Many cell phones, not to mention digital cameras, can record video – you don’t even need a video camera.  Preaching isn’t just about the text any more.

Reading the “rules” of this sermon award made me sad.  We may be finding some good essays about why people should financially support our liberal faith tradition called Unitarian Universalism, but the guidelines themselves tell a deeper and more important story – our faith tradition has been left behind by the 21st century.  We are a modern church in a post modern world.  The twenty minute lecture sermon is going the way of the 13 station dial on a television and a land line phone.

We may have a great theological tradition.  This tradition may very well be worth supporting financially. But if all we’re talking is 12 point font, we’re speaking a dead language.

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One thought on “Reading is Believing?

  1. “Judging or evaluating a sermon solely on the basis of the text is like evaluating a song solely on the basis of the lyrics.”

    Amen, amen, amen.

    I’m at an evangelical seminary, where the majority of students are African-American, coming from “the Black church” traditions, e.g. AME, National Baptist, etc. The preaching culture is a little different.

    a) You are always supposed to leave room in your sermon for the Holy Spirit to add a line or two as you’re preaching
    b) It is universally acknowledged that the delivery is just as important as the words (if not more so)
    c) It’s not about imparting information as much as it’s helping people have an experience with the Divine
    c) They’re aghast when I explain that our entire service must be 60 minutes.

    Thanks for making your video available!

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