If people are going to see that it is the Lord speaking to them, our sermons must be firmly rooted in the passage. If people are going to see what the Lord is speaking to them specifically, our sermon must be fiercely and pointedly applicable to the people in front of us. If we are going to work on two things in our preaching, let me encourage you to make it these: (1) what does the passage mean and (2) what does this passage mean for the people in front of you.
I am a firm believer in preaching. I spend a lot of time preparing and delivering sermons and studies. Even yesterday, I delivered a sermon in which I encouraged people to take their responsibilities as hearers of the Word seriously. You can listen to that sermon here, if you like.
But I am conscious that we often tell our people to take their responsibilities as hearers seriously without taking our responsibilities as preachers seriously. Maybe I am unfair to say we don’t take them seriously – I think we probably believe we are being very serious about it – we just don’t execute it all that well.
There are two basic things I expect any sermon to do. If it doesn’t do either of these things I think we have good grounds for saying it wasn’t a good sermon. We should expect any sermon to explain the passage and apply it to those listening. In other words, we can ask of any sermon: (1) do I understand the thrust of that passage as a result of this sermon? (2) do I know what I must do now as a result of that sermon? If we can’t answer ‘yes’ to those two questions, I think we have a duffer on our hands.
In the tradition I come from I think most sermons go awry when it comes to application. In fact, I would say bad sermons in my tradition fall into three broad categories (others types of homiletic duffer are available but these are the ones I see rolling round with frequency).
First, there are those that spend 30 minutes or so doing little more than restating what we’ve just read in the passage.