I play two services each week at Virginia Theological Seminary. I enjoy this opportunity; there’s always something I learn from each service whether it’s something musical, from the sermon or from the liturgy itself. 

Usually the worship is Holy Eucharist, so I have to be prepared with whomever the Celebrant might be that day, and what his/her own preferences are to how we worship. Some want moments of silence at particular places, others prefer alternate words. Everyone has their own style. In a sense, I must be ready to improvise on the spot. In addition to the roster of professors at the seminary numerous visiting guests/alumni regularly appear to participate in some way in the worship. But, one thing is for certain – I hear LOTS of sermons.

A former professor of mine once told me that there’s an implied “Nevertheless” that occurs between the sermon and the Creed. That is to say, whether the sermon has been good or bad, “NEVERTHELESS, We believe in One God, the Father Almighty…”

It’s easy to be a critic of preaching. It’s especially easy to be a critic when I don’t have to preach myself. The few times I’ve done it, I will admit to having spent an enormous amount of time preparing what to say and how to deliver it. Can you imagine the burden a minister who has no assistant clergy must bear by having to prepare a sermon each week (sometimes two sermons each week), on top of dealing with all of the meetings and pastoral visits that consume his/her time? I admit that most of the time when I’m listening to a sermon, I am hoping to be really impressed and transformed by what I hear (an unrealistic expectation). But, I still vividly recall some of the best sermons I’ve heard and they definitely changed my way of thinking/acting/believing.

After one very fine sermon, I commented to a former rector of mine how much I appreciated what he had to say. He smiled and said, “Good, because you’ll hear it again in a few years.” And yet I also recall a former colleague who told me that he did not save any of his sermons once he delivered them.

I suppose I’m fascinated by sermons because I appreciate good oratory. I can even appreciate the political speeches by those with whom I strongly disagree. It’s as though we’re being allowed inside access to the speaker’s thought process.

It has been stated that far more people were converted by Charles Wesley’s hymns than by John Wesley’s sermons. I don’t know if that’s true or not. There’s an art form in a sermon. I think good sermons can sometimes even be deconstructed into musical forms (Sonata-Allegro form, the shape of a particular symphony, a Rondo, etc). It’s an art that, as I have grown older, I’ve come to appreciate more and more. Do you recall a favorite sermon you’ve heard? Could you identify what it was specifically that made the sermon so memorable to you?