What to do with the Homily

You may have heard it said, “Prayer changes things, and sometimes the thing it changes is you”. This is a true saying and one most can relate to personally, for it is often the case that the thing that needs changing most is our perspective. Now interestingly this (the need for a change in perspective) is a principle that has border applications as well.

Let me illustrate what I am saying by means of a sort of rhetorical question: What do we expect from a sermon? Admittedly, this is a broad question and one with many possible answers. However, I think that most of us, if we are honest, expect one thing (or one group of things) from a sermon: things to do. I have heard it from time to time and I know colleagues of mine have heard it as well “great exposition of the text pastor but a little shallow on application”. In other words, “I want something to do”.

From a certain point of view, the whole thing seems a bit problematic. Narratives rarely contain explicit ethical demands and those that try to find them run the risk of completely obscuring the meaning of text and turn David’s defeat of Goliath into an example of how God enables us to deal with really big problems. On the other hand some texts do contain things for us to do, and so it is the job of the preacher to put those forward. However, we must be careful of what Charles Hodge described as “the ghost of semi-Pelagius” as being behind the desire “for something to do”.

So what then, are we to expect from a sermon? What then is the preacher to aim for? I would say a change in perspective. Good preaching should change our perspective; on the world, on ourselves, on grace, on any number of things. It should give us the mind of Christ, and the “being busy part’ should flow from there, and not from the end of the sermon.

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