Church Reporter: Sinful sermons
(POSTED: 12/17/12) Once again to the preaching issue. Sermons have been homilies for some time now. Trouble with homilies, they teeter everlastingly on the brink of being lectures with a smiley face — about who wrote what no matter what you heard before this (DON’T WANNA HEAR IT!), local politics of 3,000 years ago (GOT ENOUGH OF THAT WHERE I LIVE!), and how people baked bread on open fires or grew corn or washed themselves with spikenard (TRAVELOGS IN ANCIENT EGYPT OR AMONG THE GALATIANS ARE NOT MY CHOICE ON SUNDAY MORNING!).
Doesn’t have to be that way. Preacher man or womyn (kidding) needn’t think he’s at a U. of Chicago or Catholic Theological Union podium when he ascends pulpit-ward or descends people-ward into the aisle of offer food for hungry souls. He can instead see himself as a guide to the perpetually perplexed among us who can do without the erudition but can do nicely with a little advice and even now and then some gentle prodding about HOW TO LIVE.
Wherefore, a preaching thought for the day: Preacher man, do not hang the moral on Scripture, but hang Scripture on the moral.
That is, lead with the point of morality, then talk Scripture. Tell or urge people not to take from the till at the place of work, to be true to wife or husband or sweetheart, be straight (honest, straightforward) with people, go light on the gossip (too much room for nastiness there), avoid making pig of yourself at table or bar. Try not to dwell on sex that you can’t and/or shouldn’t have, same for consumer goods. Etc.
The Seven Deadlies — wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony — have not died among us. The Old Harry is at it still — C.S. Lewis called him Screwtape. All these do-nots put flesh and blood on the love-love-hooray-for-love which we we hear about ALL THE TIME. Bad poetry for the most part.
In fact, preacher man, go light on love and peace and people of God and other familiarities and the grand statements with which they are freighted. Get real.
AND THEN go for Scripture, when you have people’s attention with all that sex and consumer-goods and gossip talk and honesty and the like — what people already know about and relate to or shrink from or embrace lustily. Scripture they do not already know about or relate to but have to be led into. It’s the unfamiliar, everyday sin is the familiar. Lead from sin to Scripture, from the familiar to the unfamiliar.
Not the other way around. Scripture requires Sunday-morning adjustment. It’s to be got into, by way of everyday stuff and nonsense, specifically what’s wrong with us. Work into Scripture, which like the Sabbath is for man and woman, not the other way around, as The Founder said.
All the while, GOING EASY ON THE ERUDITION. Be heavy on the pithy quote. Keep it simple, keep it short. People will remember what you say. And you too maybe. It’s a thought.
By Jim Bowman
He was religion editor for The Chicago Daily News, 1968 to its closing in 1978, and since then has written many books and articles, including his Bending the Rules: What American Priests Tell American Catholics (Crossroad, 1994). He blogs at http://blithespirit.wordpress.com/ and elsewhere. www.jimbowman.com has the links. Jim Bowman’s Company Man: My Jesuit Life, 1950-1968, is available at www.lulu.com.