Yesterday our worship at Central Woodward Christian Church included both Word and Sacrament. There was music (the choir finished out the year with style and verve) and there was prayer, but standing at the center was Word and Sacrament -- a sharing in the reading of Scripture, a sermon, and the Lord's Supper. The Disciples are a Table-Centered church. But we are also a Word-Centered church. Even if there isn't a sermon per se, there will be something that brings the Word to the community. It might be simply the reading of Scripture with a few comments. It might be a sharing of testimony, or the sharing of the word through song. But in some way or form the Word is presented, for without the Word the Table loses context and meaning. You see, we Disciples have a rationalist streak in us so we want to understand what we're doing. We're okay with a bit of mystery, but within "reason."
I offer this up as a way of introducing a posting by my friend Keith Watkins. Keith has been biking (human-powered version) his way up the East Coast, and shares observations that emerged from a conversation with a woman who is Presbyterian and experience at a Disciples Church where he worshiped while on his journey.
Keith notes that while this woman's Presbyterian church is a sermon church, the same can be said for the Disciples tradition. Note Keith's observation:
To my surprise, I heard the kind of sermon my cycling companion from the big city may have had in mind. It was grounded in an important text from the Sermon on the Mount–Matthew 5:21-43–and was imaginatively adapted to contemporary times. Instead of being an exhortation telling people that their church had to change, this sermon was in the indicative mood. It included a careful explanation of what it means for all of us to live in a post-modern, post-Christendom period of time.
It was refreshing to hear such a constructive set of important ideas in an ordinary sermon, on an ordinary Sunday, in an ordinary church. It was twenty-one minutes long, delivered with animation from a manuscript, a little rough around the edges, but for me, at least, a compelling message.
Especially interesting is the fact that this preacher was also a young woman who obviously believes that serious preaching about important ideas still has a place in churches that want to appeal to a post-modern generation living in a post-Christendom world.
Keith concludes by saying that while the congregation might not see itself as a "sermon church," that is what it was for him that day.
With Keith's comments as context I'd like to raise the question of the role of the sermon in worship. Should we be a "sermon church"? Some would say that the monologue that is a sermon is a dying art form, and thus ought to be abandoned in favor of other forms. Indeed, many "contemporary" churches have taken the lead of Letterman or the latest motivational speaker, and have abandoned the traditional sermon.
As we consider the role of the sermon, who does it relate to worship and to the Sacrament of Communion?