This is the seventh in the series on why Lutherans worship the way we do, based on the book Exploring Our Lutheran Liturgy by Dennis Fakes. Following the reading of the Gospel comes the Sermon. It has been said that a sermon can help people in different ways. Some come away from it greatly forgiven and strengthened, perhaps even transformed. Others come away deeply renewed and refreshed. Sermons tend to impact people in different ways, depending on where they are in their life journey and what they may be going through at the time.
In the early days of the church, the sermon was tremendously important. But over time, its prominence lessened in Christian worship. It had lost favor in the church until the Reformation restored the sermon to its proper place. Over the subsequent years, it has increased and decreased in importance. During some times in the history of the church, the sermon lasted hours! In modern times, with competition from professionals on television and radio and with media-conditioned attention spans and sound-bites, most sermons are less than half an hour (most Lutheran sermons are 10-12 minutes).
The sermon is not a lecture or speech. It is a unique form of literature and oration. Luther Reed once said, “The Sermon is the voice of the living church lifted in instruction, testimony and exhortation.” It is part of the liturgy and fits in with the rest of the service. In the sermon, the minister expounds on the lessons. Every preacher preparing for the sermon consults commentaries, Biblical dictionaries, atlases, Greek and Hebrew language translations, Biblical and church history, and other aids so that the Proclaimer of the Word faithfully conveys God’s word and not mere opinion.
This is not a time for the preacher to use the pulpit for a favorite topic. This is the time to relate the texts to modern life. How does the ancient word of the Lord in scripture apply to the daily grind of modern times? This is the preacher’s challenge. So the sermon is the Living Word proclaimed in modern terms. Most often it is given from the pulpit, and in most Lutheran churches the pulpit is situated to the side of the chancel area. There is a reason for that. The sermon, while important and representative of the living word of Christ, is still human-oriented.
The focus in the Lutheran Church is always toward God. It is God’s action in baptism that counts most- not our meager offerings; not our “decision” for Christ. The central visual focus of the sanctuary is the altar and the cross on or above it. It is what God has done in Christ that matters, not our human actions. Following the Sermon comes the Hymn of the Day, the chief hymn of the service. It is either immediately before or after the sermon because it, too, is a comment on the readings and the sermon in relation to the church year. The Hymn of the Day often fits with the sermon and may be a preparation for it. Ideally, the words and the music all fit the theme of the day.