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Westminster Cathedral, London

Thanks to Chaplain Mike at Internetmonk for sharing the Evangelii Gaudium, an exhortation recently released by Pope Francis.  I’m digesting this treatise a bit at a time, and wanted to share with y’all a portion on the preaching of  homilies.  In reading this, I find it to not only be a lesson to pastors or priests, but to anyone who teaches or shares the Gospel, as well.  Take the word homily out wherever it might appear in the text below, and substitute words and phrases like “sermon”, “Sunday School lesson”, “small group discussion”, or even “conversation about faith”, and there are valuable lessons for all of us found here.  There are some strong points made here for those of us who are called to teach, preach, and evangelize, a few of which are summarized below:

The homily is a  point of connection between a pastor and the listeners, as well as a point of connection between a listener and God.

+ The homily should have a three-fold effect: an encouraging experience of the Holy Spirit; consolation through the hearing of God’s Word; and the renewal and growth of the listener.

+ The homily should not be treated as an educational tool, breaking down Scripture into a math equation or formulaic matter, but as a conversation between God and His people, reminding them of the covenant nature of the relationship He offers, and the amazing salvation story of Christ. 

+ The homily should be an effective bridge for the listeners to cross from their pews to participation in the Eucharist.

+ In order to deliver an effective homily, the speaker must understand the wants, needs, failures, joys, heartaches, successes, and dreams of the listeners; in short, they must understand the culture of the congregation.

+ The homily shouldn’t be boring as all get-out, but feeding the listeners’ appetite for entertainment should never be be the ultimate goal.

+ Keep it short.  You may have the ability to deliver a captivating two hour sermon, but if the people are truly listening (AKA, not snoring), it may be an indication that they are more enamored with you and your speaking ability than the content of what you are actually saying.

+ God is our Father, and the Church is our mother.  The Church represents God, and the pastor/priest/teacher/evangelist represents the Church.  Our homilies should have the quality of a loving, encouraging, correcting, strengthening, compassionate parent speaking to her children.

+ The homily you deliver should be much more than a routine lesson.  It should come from a heart set on fire by the preparation of it.  Every word should matter to you.  If you’re connected to the words you speak on behalf of God on a heart level, then it opens the door of the listeners’ hearts to what Christ has to say.

+  In the homily, the listener is embraced securely, the way an innocent child is embraced by the Father; and as children who have grown older, made poor choices at times, but are still lovingly received and embraced by their Abba Daddy.  A good sermon will always find balance between living out the promises of our baptismal covenant, and living in the grace of God: It reminds us of what God has done for us, and what He’s going to do.

All that being said, here’s some wisdom from Pope Francis…

Let us now look at preaching within the liturgy, which calls for serious consideration by pastors. I will dwell in particular, and even somewhat meticulously, on the homily and its preparation, since so many concerns have been expressed about this important ministry, and we cannot simply ignore them. The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people. We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them! It is sad that this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.

136. Let us renew our confidence in preaching, based on the conviction that it is God who seeks to reach out to others through the preacher, and that he displays his power through human words. Saint Paul speaks forcefully about the need to preach, since the Lord desires to reach other people by means of our word (cf. Rom 10:14-17). By his words our Lord won over the hearts of the people; they came to hear him from all parts (cf. Mk 1:45); they were amazed at his teachings (cf. Mk 6:2), and they sensed that he spoke to them as one with authority (cf. Mk 1:27). By their words the apostles, whom Christ established “to be with him and to be sent out to preach” (Mk 3:14), brought all nations to the bosom of the Church (cf. Mt 16:15.20).

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Jesus sharing random thoughts with His followers.  At least that's my interpretation....

Jesus sharing random thoughts with His followers. At least that’s my interpretation….

So my wife pretty consistently tells me that I’m a depository of useless information, which I will share with her until she has a stomach ache. I’ve grown to accept her perceptions as truth.  In celebration of that, I thought I might share some random thoughts with you today….

1.  When explaining how Luther and Wesley considered the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism to be “channels” of grace, it’s probably best not to use the example of your dad, the plumber, installing a pipe so that bodily wastes have a route, or “channel” by which to travel from the toilet to the septic tank.  It’s infinitely better to use the example of your dad installing a pipe as a “channel” that transports water from a well to your sink.

I would rather not say which of these examples I spontaneously used during a discipleship group last week.

2.  For Baptists, salvation happens in a microwave (dramatic conversion).  For Methodist and Anglicans, it’s usually a crock pot experience (covenant relationships + God’s grace, working together to grow us to faith in Christ).  It’s real either way.

3.  I received a flyer in the mail this week from a local church inviting me to their March 31 “Alive Super Sunday” celebration.  Evangelical Christian culture has officially re-imagined Easter.  Transforming Lent into “40 Days of Focus” was bad enough.  Isn’t Easter good enough just being Easter?

It made me throw up in my mouth a little.

Actually, it made me throw up in my mouth a lot.

4.  Courtesy of sacredsandwich.com…..A question that perhaps all of us should be asking.

funny dance

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