Bishop Eric Menees
Last week, in the Bishop’s Note, we looked at the scheduled readings of the Old Testament, Psalms, New Testament, and Gospel over a three-year cycle known as the Lectionary. Immediately following the reading of the Word of God is the Sermon. During public worship a sermon must follow the reading of the word – without exception.
Archbishop Cranmer, arguably the father of Anglicanism, defined a Church, in Article 19 of the Articles of Religion (also known as the 39 Articles) as: “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments are duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.”
“The Pure Word of God is preached” … the sermon is an essential part of being a church and an essential aspect of ministry for deacons, priests and bishops. The purpose of the sermon is to train and equip the people of God to live lives that reflect their identity in Christ as the adopted children of God (John 1:12), new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), and disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28: 19).
Because this is such an important and sacred duty, clergy are tasked to give their very best to their sermon preparation. Sermon preparation is not to be left to the last minute or undertaken without serious prayer and study of God’s Word. On average, I would guess that I spend 20 minutes of preparation for every minute of sermon preached. Underscoring the importance of sermon preparation is the biblical promise that those of us who teach the Word of God will be held to a higher standard by God (James 3:1).
A point about the length of sermons: While in college and seminary, well-meaning parishioners would give me preaching advice long before I stepped into the pulpit. “If you can’t say it in 10 minutes, it’s not worth saying.” As a student intern, I tried to adhere to that maxim until, in seminary, my preaching professor told us that the idea of keeping a sermon to 10 minutes harkened back to a time with the entire congregation spent an hour in Sunday School prior to the service and the sermon was meant to be a capstone to the Sunday School lesson. However, following WWII, Sunday School attendance began to wane to the point where it was essentially abandoned. Children’s Sunday school was moved to the 20-30 minutes during the Liturgy of the Word, and Adult Sunday School was moved to a Rector’s Forum between services — which would be sparsely attended — with topics that were all over the map. So, then it became clear that to be serious about our responsibility in teaching the Word of God, a 10-minute sermon would be the bare minimum length of a sermon as opposed to the maximum. As one friend of mine said: “Sermonettes are for Christianettes.” If we are serious about our faith and serious about preaching the “pure Word of God,” then both the preacher and the disciple need to be serious about sermons.
I pray you all a truly bless Advent!