According to my Oxford Desk Dictionary, a sermon is
1. spoken or written discourse on a religious or moral subject, esp. a discourse based on a text or passage of Scripture and delivered in church. 2. piece of admonition or reproof; lectureI suppose I have to concede that many of my blog posts fit into the category of a written discourse on a religious subject.
I have heard enough sermons in my life, though, to know that there is more to it than that. A real sermon has a certain character to it, an anointing by God that allows the listeners to hear the message through the words.
Of course, all of this is complicated by the fact that the Quaker meetings I am a part of do not have sermons. I know that some Quaker churches have official sermons, and I have heard some great sermons by Quaker pastors, but if someone starts giving a message at my meetings that sounds like a sermon, people get uncomfortable.
But maybe discomfort isn't a bad thing. I was thinking about this last night while I was reading Jeremiah and this passage spoke to me:
I said, "But Master, God! Their preachers have been telling them that everything is going to be all right—no war and no famine—that there's nothing to worry about."
Then God said, "These preachers are liars, and they use my name to cover their lies. I never sent them, I never commanded them, and I don't talk with them. The sermons they've been handing out are sheer illusion, tissues of lies, whistlings in the dark."
(Jeremiah 14:13-14). This is another place where I feel an Old Testament prophet has a clear message for us today. So many preachers in this country seem tell us that if we pray, nothing bad will happen to us. Wars, trouble, and famine may come to other nations, but not to us because we are special. I think this kind of preaching may be more dangerous in the end than boring or moralistic sermons.
After I mentioned that I was uncomfortable with the word "sermon," Tom commented that he distinguishes between sermons that come from individuals and prophetic messages that come through individuals from the Spirit.
Friends have a strong tradition of prophetic witness and we recognize that anyone may be called to minister. I hope that in the days ahead, those who feel called to preach sermons and to give prophetic messages will question our assumptions and truly let the Spirit speak through them.