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A sermon is an oration by a prophet or member of the clergy. Sermons address a Biblical, theological, religious, or moral topic, usually expounding on a type of belief, law or behavior within both past and present contexts. Elements of preaching include exposition, exhortation and practical application.

Delivery

In Christianity, a sermon (also known as a homily within some churches) is often delivered in a place of worship, most of which have a pulpit or ambo, an elevated architectural feature. The word "sermon" comes from a Middle English word which was derived from an Old French term, which in turn came from the Latin word sermō; ("discourse"). The word can mean "conversation", which could mean that early sermons were delivered in the form of question and answer, and that only later did it come to mean a monologue. In contrast to this, is the examples from the Bible, where sermons are speeches without interlocution: Moses' sermon in Deuteronomy 1-33[1]; Jesus' sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7[2]; Peter's sermon after Pentecost in Acts 2:14-40[3].

In modern language, the word "sermon" can also be used pejoratively in secular terms to describe a lengthy or tedious speech delivered with great passion, by any person, to an uninterested audience. A sermonette is a short sermon (usually associated with television broadcasting, as stations would present a sermonette before signing off for the night).

Sermons in the Christian tradition

Bloch-SermonOnTheMount

The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch.

In Christianity, the most famous sermon is the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus of Nazareth. This sermon was probably preached around 30 A.D. and is recounted in the Gospel of Matthew (5:1–7:29, including introductory and concluding material) as being delivered on a mount on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum. The Sermon on the Mount lays out many of the core principles of Christianity. Another rendition of much of the same material may be found in the "Sermon on the Plain" in the Gospel of Luke (6:17–49, including introductory material).

During the later history of Christianity, several figures became known for their sermons or a particularly significant sermon. Preachers of the early church include Peter (see especially Acts 2:14b–36), Stephen (see Acts 7:1b–53), Tertullian, John Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzus. Sermons in this era were used to spread Christianity across Europe and Asia Minor. During the Middle Ages, sermons inspired the beginnings of new religious orders (eg, Saint Dominic and Francis of Assisi). Pope Urban II began the First Crusade in November 1095 at the Council of Clermont, France, when he exhorted French knights to retake the Holy Land in Palestine.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the art of preaching has developed through the theological field of homiletics.

Many sermons have been written down, collected and published. Such sermons include John Wesley's 53 Standard Sermons, John Chrysostom's Homily on the Resurrection (preached every Easter in Orthodox churches) and Gregory Nazianzus' homily "On the Theophany, or Birthday of Christ" (preached every Christmas in Orthodox churches). Martin Luther began a tradition of publishing sermons (Hauspostille) on the Sunday lessons for the edification of readers. This tradition was continued by Chemnitz and Arndt and others into the following centuries — for example CH Spurgeon's stenographed sermons, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit[1].

Role in Protestantism

Luther-Predigt-LC-WB

"The certain mark by which a Christian community can be recognized is the preaching of the gospel in its purity."—Luther[2]

The Reformation led to Protestant sermons, many of which defended the schism with the Roman Catholic Church and explained beliefs about scripture, theology and devotion. The distinctive doctrines of Protestantism held that salvation was by faith alone, and convincing people to believe the Gospel and place trust in God for their salvation through Jesus Christ was the decisive step in salvation. In many Protestant churches, the sermon came to replace the Eucharist as the central act of Christian worship. The goal of Protestant worship, as conditioned by these beliefs, was to rouse the congregation to a deeper faith, rather than have them just partake in rituals.

In the 1700s and 1800s during the Great Awakening, major sermons were made at revivals, which were especially popular in the United States. These sermons were noted for their "fire-and-brimstone" message, typified by Jonathan Edwards's famous "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" speech. In these sermons the wrath of God was clearly one to be afraid of, although fear was not the message Edwards was trying to convey in his sermons, he was simply trying to tell the people that they could be forgiven for their sins.

Types

There are a number of different types of sermons, that differ both in their subject matter and by their intended audience, and accordingly not every preacher is equally well-versed in every type. The types of sermons are:

  • Topical sermons - concerned with a particular subject of current concern;
  • Liturgical sermons - sermons that explain the liturgy, why certain things are done during a service, such as why communion is offered and what it means.[3]
  • Biographical sermons - tracing the story of a particular biblical character through a number of parts of the Bible.
  • Historical sermons - which seek to portray a biblical story within its historical perspective.[4]
  • Evangelistic sermons - seeking to convert the congregation or bring them back to their previous faith through a recounting of the Good News.
  • Expository preaching - exegesis, that is sermons that expound and explain a text to the congregation.
  • Redemptive-Historical Preaching - sermons that takes into consideration the context of any given text within the broader history of salvation as recorded in the canon of the bible.
  • Narrative sermons - which tell a story, often a parable, or a series of stories, to make a moral point.
  • Illuminative sermons, also known as proems (petihta) - which connect an apparently unrelated biblical verse or religious question with the current calendrical event or festival.[5]

It is worth noting that sermons can be both written and spoken out loud.

Delivery methods

Sermons also differ on the amount of time and effort used to prepare them.

  • Scripted preaching — preaching with a previous preparation, it can be with help of notes or a script, or rely on the memory of the preacher.
  • Extemporaneous preaching — preaching without overly detailed notes and sometimes without preparation. Usually a basic outline and scriptural references are listed as notes.
  • Impromptu preaching — preaching without previous preparation.

With the advent of reception theory, researchers also became aware that how how sermons are listened to affects their meaning as much as how they are delivered. The expectations of the congregation, their prior experience of listening to oral texts, their level of scriptural education, and the relative social positions — often reflected in the physical arrangement — of sermon-goers vis-a-vis the preacher are part of the meaning of the sermon.

See also

References

  1. Spurgeon, C.H., Spurgeon's Sermons, Baker 2003, ISBN 0801011132
  2. Tappert, T.G., Selected Writings of Martin Luther, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007, p.325
  3. Schüch, Ignaz (1894) A manual of homiletics and catechetics: the priest in the pulpit (Boniface Luebbermann editor and translator)‎ Benziger, New York, page 170, OCLC 15157571
  4. Schüch, Ignaz (1894) A manual of homiletics and catechetics: the priest in the pulpit (Boniface Luebbermann editor and translator)‎ Benziger, New York, page 169, OCLC 15157571
  5. Holtz, Barry W. (1984) Back to the Sources: Reading the classic Jewish texts Summit Books, New York, page 198, ISBN 0-671-45467-6

Bibliography

  • American Sermons: The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Warner, ed. (New York: The Library of America, 1999) ISBN 1-883011-65-5
  • Edwards, O. C., Jr. A History of Preaching. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004. ISBN 0-687-03864-2
  • Sullivan, Ceri, 'The Art of Listening in the Seventeenth Century', Modern Philology 104.1 (2006), pp. 34-71
  • Willimon, William H. and Richard Lischer, eds. Concise Encyclopedia of Preaching. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995. ISBN 0-664-21942-X


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