On Preaching

Here’s an interesting response to the issue discussed previously about sermon stealing.

I do have to take issue with the history of preaching presented by the author, however; it’s not entirely accurate.

Nevertheless, one of the things that left me scratching my head after my last preaching class is the ways that my students did or didn’t rely on the Bible in their sermons–or when they did use it the depth to which they engaged it.

(h/t T19)

5 Replies to “On Preaching”

  1. Derek:

    Two comments:

    (A) I can tell you that the “composers” of the Eucharist portions of BCP 79 intended in their liturgical order that there would be (1) the Gospel, then (2) the preacher’s commentary ON THAT GOSPEL, and then (3) the Church’s proclamation of the whole faith in the Creed. That doesn’t require, of course, that virtually EVERY sermon be a commentary on the Gospel, but it is a good rule of thumb to follow. I always look at the Gospel with a kind of overlay, asking myself “What bit of this text does God want the congregation to understand better?” And occasionally, the answer is “Nothing! Go preach on something else.”

    (B) I cannot guarantee it (and have no time to look it up), but I believe it was Cyril of Jerusalem who said that plagiarism is impossible in preaching, because one is not preaching for one’s personal glory, but for God’s glory – and if someone else has said it better, it is fine to use his/her words. I don’t understand the professed shock, horror, and disillusion about the matter (unless it is the purely practical matter of “We’ve been paying the guy to pray and study and he hasn’t been doing that!”). If what is preached is true and fine and well-put, who cares who wrote it? (I want to note that I have NEVER preached another’s words or insights without citing their author – in fact I just finished my Corpus Christi sermon which is largely from Cardinal Henry de Lubac and I say so!)

    I suppose in a Protestant setting in which the sermon is the major feature, feelings might differ – like a theatrical performance which promises one actor’s performance and substitutes another. And, of course, in an academic setting plagiarism is mortal sin #1, but I wonder why it is so big a thing in the pulpit……

  2. I think the question John-Julian offers (why it is so big a thing) can be answered by looking at the previous paragraph. John-Julian, your sermon is drawn from de Lubac, but you admit it. Many people don’t. If I freely adapted a sermon without acknowleging it, thus implicitly suggesting that these are my own Spirit-led thoughts, then I am liar.

    I think the main issue that comes into play is that when plagiarism is the norm, then it is clear that the priest is taking no time to be immersed in scripture. For me, this is an issue that is much more significant than that of borrowing an illustration or two from a fellow preacher.

  3. Yes, the preachers I spend most of my time with freely recycled large chunks from the Fathers. They understood their task to be handing on the tradition and that’s absolutely what they were doing. The modern context is different…

    I still think it has a lot to do with the romanticist/pietist connection that assumes that authentic religious experience is personal religious experience and that all proper preaching must flow from that. (It’s a fundamentally individualistic approach that looses aspects of *community experience* but I digress…) Too, the modern notion of intellectual property and ideas as commodities etc. feed in here in a strange way. On one hand, I wouldn’t mind some borrowed sermons because they’d probably increase the quality over all, on the other hand I’d wonder how fully formed my clergy were in the Scriptures and liturgy.

  4. As a person in the pew, I wouldn’t mind if a source was credited, it would tend to imply my priest is intelligent enough to read inspired texts (I wouldn’t limit it to other sermons). Actually, it might be refreshing. And there isn’t any need for outright plagarism, anyway. The idea itself is not copyrightable. There has never been anything wrong with borrowing somebody else’s idea and building on it.

    I have no idea what officially constitutes good sermon composition, but the tired old jokes can go–and don’t tell me they are original, either.

  5. LOL! Absolutely on the tired old jokes… I do think that when the sources are well credited and when the framing is good that this is not a bad way to go–at least in moderation. It’d be interesting to find out if an average parish would go for this kind of thing these days.

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