The judges will use this thread to comment on the sermon entries that have been posted int he sermon competition thread. To review, the theme was "How God's word has made me a better person." They were limited to one passage and to "five minutes." The judges were looking for clarity of thought, creativity with Scripture and how they might be "won over" if they were sitting on the pew. We have not shared our opinions with one another prior to this thread. I have no idea how they will respond.
A short digression if I may. I don't get to preach much myself, but I came across an interesting piece of information this morning about Ruth Graham. She and her husband, Billy, will be buried in caskets made by a murderer. He died earlier in the year serving 35 years of two life terms. He built caskets for inmates. Graham visited the penetentiary years ago and was so impressed with his simple plywood caskets that he asked him to make one for both of them. So when you think about the legacy, and dare I say "holiness" of Graham, forget not the simple sinner who can work with his hands.
Introduction: In beginning let me say that all the entries pretty much reflected the personalities that I experience in their postings in the forums. So there was a “congruence.” One of the limitations of this format is that we do not get to hear them. We do not get to see the inflections, mannerisms and such. While this is part of a good sermon, the best we can do in this judging is to experience the written sermon, so that is what I am going on.
Let me begin with Hand of Hercate. Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing would have been an excellent anthem for this sermon. The theme was basically a unification of “love of God through love a person” i.e sex. Interestingly enough, there are sermon entries that have unique and differing views of “love” in this competition. I found the sermon lacking in the intent of the passage. H of H made the common mistake that many pastor make, that of taking a passage out of context and applying it to his personal ideology. I also felt it became more about him than the message. It reminded me of a sermon I heard once by a woman telling the congregation they needed a “Holy Ghost enema.” I’ll give you this, H of H: I wasn’t bored and you got me to read a passage that I was unfamiliar with. One more thing. I don’t like sermons ended with “Praise the Lord.” To make it analogous to your sermon, there needs to be foreplay, “increased whoredom” , and then some gentle caressing. Keep “practicing” and hope to see you in the next round.
Let’s move on to Vistesd. Hand of Hercate could use this sermon. The theme I found to be very thought provoking. It played on the conflict between the human aspect of love and the essence of love in which there are no guarantees or as he said is “trouble and confusion” and full of risk. He preaches a gospel of “expansion and self-revelation.” I clearly heard the expansion, but I also felt that there was something personal in this for him, but he didn’t share it on a personal level. It may be his tradition to not share intimate journeys. The content was inspiring and challenging to the prevailing syrup that is often served up in sermons. I wonder if his ideas might better be expressed in a “workshop” rather than a sermon. The first time I read it I thought there was kind of a “lecture” feel to it But as I reread it several times it almost felt poetic . In that respect I liked how it felt congruent with the content.. On the other hand I appreciated his not getting too personal in his story as to miss the larger truths that he was presenting. Best line in the sermon: “Salvation does not proceed from spiritual masturbation. And God does not need to be stroked.” When you get invited to preach at a Baptist church, call me. I want to be there for that line. Well done.
Let’s move on to Epiphinehas. His sermon takes a different angle than Vistesd and they would be excellent to put side by side and contrast. Let me draw you to one line that got my attention. “Deliverance from the self is the stated goal of every religion and psychiatry known to man.” The deliverance he espouses is through the cross of Jesus. I might make a case for “embracing the self” as a gift from God. He recounts his own story of anxiety and depression and having a healing from it. I hear a lot of passion and energy in his sermon and liked that he took some risks in sharing. My question/commentary would be “what about when I pray and I am still stuck with the thorn in the flesh?” Your theology is one of change and salvation. You and several others tend to see salvation as quick. For some, however, salvation can be a long journey. Just an idea. I found I was wanting to know a little more about your day to day struggles that persist. But that’s me. Cut out the beginning of your sermon as I felt you had some “axes to grind” with certain issues. The more you shared about yourself, the more I connected with the sermon. The other stuff we’ll sort out in heaven. Good job.
Let’s move on to Pawnhandler. I imagine Pawnhandler and Epiphinehas might be in the same church. Very similar theology and views of sin and God’s redeeming salvation. I found his sermon to be a pretty good testimony. Those of you who don’t know what a testimony is it is basically telling your story and how God saved you. His story is universal in that he was trying to figure out if he mattered in a vast universe. He came to understand a personal nature of God in the midst of God’s vast universe. If I had to give some critique, it would be to not begin with “Brothers and sisters.” You sound like a rap video. Try opening up with a question. The first sentence in a sermon, or any speech for that matter, is the most important. Try something like, “Have you ever pondered the stars at night and felt really small?” Who hasn’t! It’s all about making your story connect with their story. Best line: “I’m not just the result of a sperm race.” I like that. God made sperm too, didn’t he? Also, don’t do the “6,000 year” thing. You automatically alienate some people with that. That’s one of those “axes to grind” issues that we don’t need to get into heaven or to like your sermon. Well done.
OK, let’s move on to Whodey. I found yours to be the most entertaining. You can take that however you want. Here is what you need to be a better proclamer: you need to get focused. You are all over the place. I wondered (and I tried to imagine sitting in the pew listening to you) if you were ever diagnosed as being ADHD. You tried to get some humor in there, but I didn’t get it. The 3-0 monster was lost on me. I know you are a Christian and I guess you go to church a lot, but I’m wondering what your model of proclamation is. I would recommend that you visit an Episcopal or Presbyterian church and get a feel of how others may preach. Go in with an open mind. Now I promised to be positive, so I want to share a couple of your more entertaining moments. “Call me cold hearted just as long as you concede I have some sensibility and perception of good taste.” I wouldn’t ever say that again in public. But the best was your question and answer: “ Would you believe me if I told you Christ has turned my judgementalism into the realization that I am no better than those I stood in judgment over without the blood of Christ over me? Probably not.” Hopefully by the end of this competition we can say Whodey answered differently.
And now to Rwingett. Who would have thought an atheist would get as long-winded as a Pentecostal preacher in August? His sermon is a nice balance to the others presented. I can only imagine the call to stone him after the first paragraph. I will give Rob this: he was well spoken and clear. Yet my biggest problem with his sermon is that he is like the preacher who is a “one issue” person. Kind of like you can’t be a Christian if you don’t want prayer in school or believe in abortion. Yet, I will take “the bone.” His focus is on the egalitarian emphasis of the early Christian church as the undefiled state of paradise. Unfortunately, like some of the other contestants, he uses his sermon to promote his agendas or “axes to grind.” A sermon is best when you don’t find yourself getting pissed at the preacher, and I ‘m afraid that is what would happen with his sermon. By all means stay focused on “they had all things in common” but you don’t have to question the authority of the Scriptures. I will tell you the same thing I told the others: “we don’t need to believe or understand that to get into heaven.” I would have really liked to have heard a story from your communal days and how you experienced faith in the midst of that. Maybe like how all the naked women running around reminded you of the Garden of Eden. Forget all the “bamboozeled” stuff. Whether it is true or not, I think you are most effective when you are relaxed and nonconfrontational. I think your growing edge is how to be prophetic and be experienced as easy to listen to. A great sermon and to be commended. I hope you will enter other rounds so as we can see if you are a “one issue “ preacher.
And finally our last entry, Josephw. I found he began his sermon in a way that many preachers begin, by discounting their abilities and drawing upon their faith to convey what they have to say. I personally don’t think one should have to do this as we know what God thought of Moses doing this. Not much. I thought he got side-tracked with other topics that are dear to him in the forums, namely why others can’t see God’s revelation in his word. In this sense I found him to be argumentative and like the others had some “axes to grind.” I know he posted early on a question about who “me” is and I don’t think we ever got that resolved as he is still asking the question: “a better person than who?” There was one key sentence that I feel he could have developed and hit a home run: “I went through a whole range of emotions struggling to find a way into your minds with what I believe is the truth.” I would have been really interested in what he learned about himself in this “struggle.” I liked his choice of the Phillipians passage and this one would have complimented Vistesd’s sermon. Always pay attention to exactly what you are saying. Best line: “I have to laugh, you know, at the strange feeling I get that someone would read this and decide to believe in Jesus as their savior. I would be astonished.” Keep working and figure out a way how you would not be astonished, but then again, maybe I need to affirm your humility. A good start.
I found a nice blend of personal piety, community ethic, spiritual journey, and hope amidst troubled times in this first group of sermons. I hope all who took time to read them will find a couple of things. Firstly, I hope they will appreciate the wide range of ideas that people have around faith and religion. Secondly, I hope they will find a connection with the sermons, even ones they didn’t really care for. Thirdly, for the contestants, I hope you have found this exercise/competition to inspire some thought. If you ever wonder why sermons are so boring, just imagine doing a 30 minute sermon three times a week.
My evaluations of the sermons of the first round assess how well each met these five criteria:
1) Focusing on the topic of how God's Word made the preacher a better person. Specifically, I was looking for a contrast between a former state of being and a new and better state of being, and how God's Word effected the transformation from one to the other.
2) Citing a single passage of scripture and applying it to one's own life experiences. I wanted to see the verse put in one's own words, to know that it has taken on a personal meaning.
3) Respecting the original intent of the passage. Creative use means expanding upon the author's meaning, not denying or ignoring it.
4) Writing in a confessional mood. This would be characterized by subjective feelings, personal accounts, and a humble and contemplative tone.
5) Persuasively communicating the message of transformation, that each member of the audience be compelled to seek his own through the Word of God.
I shall score each sermon on a scale of 1 to 4 on each criterion, yielding total of 20 possible points per entry:
A score of 1 signifies disregard for the criterion.
A score of 2 signifies a failed attempt at fulfilling the criterion.
A score of 3 signifies a successful attempt at fulfilling the criterion.
A score of 4 signifies homiletic mastery of the criterion.
Criterion 1: I didn't see any description of a before and after, nor an attribution of such change to the cited verse. This earns a score of 1.
Criterion 2: I didn't observe much creativity here. Rather, vistesd performs what I would characterize as a literary analysis, trying to figure out the author's meaning rather than finding his own. This earns a score of 2.
Criterion 3: The analysis of the passage seems to be a devout search for its real meaning. This earns a score of 4.
Criterion 4: Vistesd failed to make this personal. Every use of "I" was generic and could seamlessly be replaced by "one" without a change of meaning. This earns a score of 1
Criterion 5: I wasn't persuaded in the least to seek further meaning in similar passages, not only because I didn't learn how the transformed vistesd himself, but also because it was dry and abstract. This earns a score of 2.
Criterion 1: I think this sermon minimally fulfills the criterion of the topic, although the bulk of the sermon is not dedicated to the actual transformation. This earns a score of 3.
Criterion 2: A verse is cited, and the reader can infer the connection, but there isn't much creativity at work here. This earns a score of 2.
Criterion 3: Again, the reader is left to infer the connection between the verse and the sermon. This earns a score of 2.
Criterion 4: As above, this minimally satisfies the confessional mood. This earns a score of 3.
Criterion 5: To the extent that I was persuaded by the story, the sermon conveyed no analytical connection between the personal events and the Word of God that would compel me to read further. This earns a score of 2.
Criterion 1: The element of personal transformation was clearly appended as a contrived afterthought to this sermon. I remain wholly unconvinced that RWillis's economic ideology actually derives from Acts. This earns a score of 1.
Criterion 2: I think RWillis exercises due creativity in interpreting the cited passages. This earns a score of 3.
Criterion 3: I agree that these words of Acts contain grains of socialist ideology. This earns a score of 3.
Criterion 4: This is no confessional. This earns a score of 1.
Criterion 5: I remain completely unmotivated to turn to the Word of God to improve my life based on this sermon. RWillis is blatantly using the pulpit as a political soapbox in the style of Jerry Falwell. This earns a score of 1.