Eschatological, extra-Biblical, intertestamental; the Pentateuch, Psalter, Synoptics and Yahweh, to name but seven. These characters, the connoisseur will not be surprised to know, have been spotted in sermons in impeccably orthodox churches within recent memory. But it is less than orthodox to make a congregation wonder what on earth you are talking about, or (worse) not too keen to discover.
Preachers, they say, are born and not made; preaching is caught and not taught. Such dangerous slogans contain grains of truth. If they rang no bells, they would not fool so many. We know the naturally gifted communicators who would stand out in any company; they could shine on stage, on TV or in Parliament or (as is the habit of some) all three. John the Baptist did not attend theological college. If he had, he would not have spent much time on homiletics, still less working on an inclusivist, non-judgemental baptism policy – though that’s another story.
More can be gained by listening to good preaching than by many a sermon-class; that does not mean hopping around to sample the star orators, but consistent hearing of a faithful preacher/pastor in your parish church, week by week, who knows what he is about. Not just the cup-ties but the unavoidable slog of the league, so to speak.
But then again don’t overdo the football. Not everyone needs to know what a lad you are. And wait, what am I doing here but extending the class rather than doing the preach? ‘I’m so glad’ (as another preacher said although no-one had interrupted; they were Anglicans) ‘that you asked that question.’ Because, yes, I do believe in sermon classes, in teaching preaching. Repeat in different ways to help us register; neither rely on snappy alliteration nor totally ban it; remember pace variation and pauses; smile, but not constantly.
And ‘as we have seen’, that’s another story too. Another story may help, if it’s not another and another and another. Our stories should not produce ‘Wow, what an amazing story!’ nor ‘What an amazing preacher!’ but ‘Hey, that’s exactly where I am!’ See Mt, Mk, Lk and Jn, but not, please, the Synoptics and the Fourth Evangelist.