Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What right do I have to speak?

This is a question that anybody standing up to deliver a sermon must ask themselves. Why am I so clever and wise that I get to talk at you while the rest of you have to stay quiet and listen to me?

I don't think preaching should be, 'You know I was thinking the other day...' nor should it be a journalistic opinion piece on the events of the world. Sure, everyday life and our reflection on it can be revelatory. I completely believe that. But if that is the case then why should only one person be speaking? If our own reflection on life is where authority comes from then we should have something similar to the Quakers when all can stand up and deliver our thoughts. I don't see why two or three years at a theological college should qualify someone to stand up and dominate the conversation for 10, 20, 30 minutes.

See my own life and yours are full of revelation, sure. But there were some folks who really got to some religious truth, they discovered some amazing truths and told other people about it too. Why should we reinvent the wheel looking for revelation only in our own lives when others have found some powerful stuff that might be able to help us?

The only justification I have for standing up and talking at people for 10 (rarely more than 15 for me) minutes is that I have spent a few hours during the week wrestling with some of the Great Tradition. I have also spent (personally) four years full time studying the Great Tradition. Because of the time I have given to this (that other people do not have in their own lives) I can offer a sermon to other people to give them a head start in their own path of faith.

I cannot stand up and speak from my own authority. The only authority I have is as a transmitter of the Great Tradition. As much as I have studied the Great Tradition more than others I have the right to speak to others. But if I'm just offering reflections from my life without reference to the Great Tradition then I have no more right to speak than anyone else.


Blogger Andrewjb said...

The justification for you standing up and speaking for 10 minutes is that a group of people (a church community) invited you to do it - and have indicated their willingness to listen to you by sitting quietly and, you hope, attentively.

However, that invitation shouldn't preclude any of them from saying their bit. Unfortunately most churches have discouraged non clergy from having a teaching/preaching role of any sort. Even from commenting or asking questions in public.

Unitarian congregations are mostly smallish, and we like to think we are different and radical, so why can't we encourage and develop an interactive style of teaching and learning in our churches.

Of course, we also need to wean ourselves off the hymn sandwich type of service, and explore ways of worship that involve participation, all the senses, and enable our spirits to grow, not just our minds.

12:34 pm  
Anonymous mike killingworth said...

Every revelation is unique; every revelation is partial.

I began preaching because I was asked to (by Art Lester); I continue because congregations ask me back. And I am glad they do, because the act of writing an address is one of the most valuable feedback loops I possess.

I detect a note of false modesty in your post, Stephen - you felt a call to ministry and in due course
no doubt a congregation will call you to minister to them. That is all the qualification you can need.

And much as I agree with Andrew that we need other forms of service than the hymn sandwich (if only because few of our congregations seem to want to afford to keep the piano or organ in tune, without which no one whose playing is worth listening to will touch it) the dear old sandwich shouldn't be a purely intellectual 50 minutes. Practical spirituality is about the unity of heart and mind, and those that can't preach that might do better not to preach at all.

12:10 am  

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