Sunday, January 11, 2009


Recently, Alivia has referred to a few of my posts as "sermons." I told her that the word made me uncomfortable. To begin with, I associate sermons with preaching. I do not want to preach, I do not want to seem preachy on my blog, and I do not feel qualified to preach. I went to law school, not seminary.

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; lecture
I 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.


  1. I don't think there's anything particularly un-Quakerly about sermons. The question has always been about where they come from: are we taking care that they're coming from direct inspiration of the Inward Christ or are they merely writing exercises, literary show-offs. There's a whole subset of Quaker blogs and posts that are sermons of a sort and the kind of Old Testament prophetic witness is something we all need a bit more of these days. So much of the prophets seem to focus on whether we're really committed to God and to the spiritual life. We can all be asked that question and we can all be led back to that shepherd who loves and cares for us.

  2. Ashley, I am thankful that you are wrestling with this, rather than completely tossing it away. To me a good or great sermon is a totally annointed, message from God deal. Often it is a prophetic witness, or it may be a look in the mirror kind of thing. I have experienced all of these through some of your messages. In preaching class I was reluctant to share much of my personal history/story, but my professor reminded me time and again that it is my history and where God has met me in all the events of my life that are relevant and truth that many of us are hungry, even starving to hear and touch. So. Own or try on whatever feels truthful to you. By calling them sermons I was not referring to a soapbox, negative sort of finger-in-your-face, bible-thumping sort of experience. Not at all. I was talking about the kind of message that draws me into the story ever so gently, and I don't figure out or know the message is for me too or how deeply relevant to me, until I am captured and the "aha" moment zaps me, and I get the little afterword or "P.S." that says something like "think about it, love, God"... Telling your story, sharing your thinking/experience/process is healing for our community/ies and is one way of spreading truth. And this, we hope, is what our lives are about. Your messages have blessed me, both in the fuzzy, warm-feeling way, and in the challenging, uncomfortable, I don't want to hear that sort of way... sometimes how it feels to be admonished by someone you love and you know loves you deeply---whatever you call it, it is valuable and precious. I still think some of them are sermons. :-)

  3. Thanks, Alivia. I knew you didn't mean anything bad by saying some of my posts were sermons, and I really appreciate your thoughts and support. I feel like I might have more to say on the topic . . . This definitely was not the post I thought I was going to write when I started! That is one of the things I love about my blog, it sometimes takes me to unexpected places. It was great to see you this weekend and I hope we get to spend time together again soon.


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