Say the word “sermon” and the average person doesn’t get too thrilled. In fact for a lot of people the word is only used as a pejorative (as in, “You can spare me the sermon, OK?”). But consider the sermon in its true sense – the message or homily or whatever you choose to call that which is taught aloud on a regular basis to a corporate church gathering. It’s not a popular word, and it’s not a popular concept. Maybe that’s not entirely bad. If it were, then by now we’d have had to witness a nauseating reality show competition in which young preachers go one at a time & America texts in its vote for the best sermon.
But to the degree that the sermon has a bad rap, whose fault is it? The sermon is one thing that is definitely not in short supply. America in particular is a land of 10,000 sermons, in just about any given week, and with a vast array of differences between them. A 72 hour trip around the internet would show you an endless matrix of church and other websites with all the sermons you could sample in every bit of free time you have. If I were Dr. Seuss my title for this would be “Oh the Sermons You’ll Hear.”
While a number of people in the present secularized society have only heard snippets of sermons, or have only a distant memory of sermons they heard as children, those with particular interest in the thinking and doing of churches realize that there are more species of sermon than of insect living in your backyard. Below is my own catalog of many (maybe most?) of the different kinds or types of sermons preached on a regular basis somewhere not too far from any of us. It is a homiletical parade of the good, the bad, and the ugly. As you move down the list you will see that I begin with more standard fare but then later I get to some of the more bizarre and even obnoxious kinds of sermons, where I include some links to examples that you will find entertaining and/or disturbing.
On to the Carnival of Sermons …
The Expository Sermon: Verse-by-Verse
I begin with the ancient standard, the time honored, the historically preeminent, and the unfortunately not nearly as popular as it once was: verse-by-verse exposition. It is still the sermon of choice for a great many of the most serious and devout. It’s a harder sell, though, for the masses today, since it demands more of the listener, moves more slowly and carefully, seeming to the short attention spans of today like a boring and tedious study of words and ideas that requires too much detailed concentration on the text and its meaning.
The Expository Sermon: Passages & Narratives
Not every expository sermon is necessarily of the verse-by-verse variety, so I thought this deserving of its own category. Sermons can still be very text-based but with a wider view. Some of the “books within the book” do not lend themselves as much to verse-by-verse, like Old Testament narratives, wisdom literature and exotic apocalyptic visions. Much as in the case of the difference between literal word-for-word translations vs. thought for thought (“dynamic equivalence”) translations, sometimes an exegesis and exposition that is not merely one-word-at-a-time (or even one-verse-at-a-time) is more appropriate and effective in communication of what is in those words (and verses).
The Theological / Doctrinal Sermon
Sure to shrink a crowd these days, sermons of this kind would hardly even be understood by a lot of modern church-goers. The language would at best seem vaguely familiar while arcane, and at worst completely foreign. A friend of mine said he once used the word “supralapsarian” in a sermon on salvation and the Fall, and afterward someone asked him, “What was that ‘super-cali-fragilistic’ thing you talked about?” The fact is you’ll be hard pressed to hear a sermon that even includes much overt theology, let alone one that emphasizes or prioritizes it.