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©2002 The Society of
Archbishop Justus, Ltd


Hallo again to all.

Most of the Body of Christ, we people in the pews, the plebs sancta Dei, must make our living in this secular world. The time that we spend connecting to God on Sunday is our personal time. We know those who, every Sunday morning, ask themselves the question 'Should I go to church today?' For us, there is no place we would rather be, and if illness or personal circumstance forces us to miss a Sunday, we feel rather out of sorts. And we can, we admit, feel quite cross if the sermon we hear on a Sunday seems, well, rather hastily thrown together, a verbal mess of pottage.

Happily today, despite the heat of the Northern Hemisphere summer when it takes discipline to pay full attention to anything, we were spellbound by a sermon about the perils of the sea. Musing afterwards, we realised that there is nothing quite like a good sermon. Neither a lecture, nor a lesson, nor a sales pitch (thank God), the sermon is an art form all its own.

Yes, we love the music. Yes, we glory in the eucharist. Yes, we enjoy being around our friends in corporate worship. But still and always there is the sermon. We recall a quote from our friend, the Reverend Raewynne Whiteley:

There is the sense, in ... preaching, that time telescopes, that we are invited to rediscover our reality in the midst of God's reality, our world in the midst of God's world.

A trauma centreA good sermon can take us to another time and place. For a few minutes, we are indeed at Jesus' Sea of Galilee or Moses' Red Sea or Paul's Road to Damascus. With the help of the preacher, we can better understand what it means to be a Christian by visiting another time and place and seeing things as others would have seen them.

A beach in South AfricaSometimes a sermon can be captivating by taking us not to the Sea of Galilee but to the trauma ward of San Francisco General Hospital or to a beach in South Africa or to a village in rural Australia. The preacher gives us the ability to see the world from another point of view and to help us understand how the things that we see relate to God. That's Christian anamnesis in action.

The concept of anamnesis comes from Plato; it's a kind of remembering, but contains far more than that somewhat reclining-on-the-couch verb suggests. Rather anamnesis is closer to re-living something, remembering A village in rural Australia(re-membering) in a three-dimensional way—a kind of virtual reality. (Tired expression, but it will serve.) Walking the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem is an anamnestic activity: we can better understand Jesus's life by walking where He walked. Walking those same stations in the narthex of a church is a weaker form of anamnesis, for we must supply more from our imagination. Listening to words and being anamnesiated, as it were, is a gift from a brilliant preacher.

Alas, this business of preaching is something that other denominations seem often to do better than Anglicans. Lists of famous preachers—oh, take William Booth or John Knox or Horace Bushnell or Billy Graham or Thomas Talmadge—often don't include a proportional number of Anglicans. Yes, we can trot out John Donne and Lancelot Andrewes and perhaps one or two more regional Anglican or Episcopal favourites, but few Anglicans have shaken the world lately through the power of words. Desmond Tutu comes quickly to mind, and then the list rather stops. We know entirely too many Anglicans who think that the surplice is more important than the sermon. And we understand that many seminaries and theological colleges no longer emphasise homiletics, the art and craft of preaching. Hmm.

But we have slogans, eh?

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 11 August 2002