Listening to Gordon Brown and other political orators has got me thinking about public speech and the way we talk to one another.

What about the sermon? Is it really any way to talk to people these days? What makes for a good sermon?

Lets remind ourselves about some of the history and theory……..

Sermons are usually, but not always, delivered in a house of worship. A sermon is also known as a homily within the Catholic Church. The word “sermon” comes from a Middle English word which was derived from an Old French term, which in turn came from the Latin word sermō; (“discourse”). The word can mean “conversation”, which could mean that early sermons were delivered in the form of question and answer, and that only later did it come to mean a monologue. In contrast to this, is the examples from the Bible, where sermons are speeches without interlocution: Moses’s sermon in Deuteronomy 1-33; Jesus’s sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7; Peter’s sermon after Pentecost in Acts 2.

In modern language, the word “sermon” can also be used pejoratively in secular terms to describe a lengthy or tedious speech delivered with great passion, by any person, to an uninterested audience. 


 Diverse tradition

In traditional Indian philosophy, a teacher or guru delivers a talk known as a satsang.

In rabbinic Judaism, homiletical literature is found primarily in various forms of Biblical exegesis, known as midrash.

In Islam, the Khutba  is a sermon delivered before Friday prayers and after Eid prayers. There is also a khutba delivered during Hajj in the plains of Arafat, just outside Mecca. This khutba addresses the entire Muslim nation, as its message is carried back by pilgrims to their respective homelands.

 Sermons in the Christian tradition

In Christianity, the most famous sermon is the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus of Nazareth. This sermon was probably preached around 30 A.D. and is recounted in the Gospel of Matthew (5:1 – 7:29, including introductory and concluding material) as being delivered on a mount on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum. The Sermon on the Mount lays out many of the core principles of Christianity.

Many sermons have been written down, collected and published. Such sermons include John Wesley’s 53 Standard Sermons, John Chrysostom’s Homily on the Resurrection (preached every Easter in Orthodox churches) and Gregory Nazianzus’ homily “On the Theophany, or Birthday of Christ” (preached every Christmas in Orthodox churches). Martin Luther began a tradition of publishing sermons (Hauspostille) on the Sunday lessons for the edification of readers.

The Reformation led to Protestant sermons, many of which defended the schism with the Roman Catholic Church and explained beliefs about scripture, theology and devotion. Since the distinctive doctrines of Protestantism held that salvation was by faith alone, and convincing people to believe the Gospel and place trust in God for their salvation through Jesus Christ was the decisive step in salvation, in Protestantism the sermon and hymn came to replace the Eucharist as the central act of Christian worship. To rouse deeper faith in the churchgoers, rather than have them partake in a ritual, was the goal of Protestant worship conditioned by these beliefs.

Types of Sermon

There are a number of different types of preaching, that differ both by their subject matter and by their intended audience. and accordingly not every preacher is well-versed in each type. The types of preaching are:

  • Topical preaching – concerned with a particular subject of current concern;
  • Biographical preaching – tracing the story of a particular biblical character through a number of parts of the Bible.
  • Evangelistic preaching – seeking to convert the congregation or bring them back to their previous faith through a recounting of the Good News.
  • Expository preaching – exegesis, or preaching from a text and seeking to expound the text to the congregation.
  • Redemptive-Historical Preaching – Preaching that takes into consideration the context of any given text within the broader history of salvation as recorded in the canon of the bi

 Delivery methods

Sermons also differ on the amount of time and effort used to prepare them.

  • Scriptedpreaching – preaching with a previous preparation, it can be with help of notes or a script, or rely on the memory of the preacher.
  • Extemporaneous preaching- preaching without overly detailed notes and sometimes without preparation. Usually a basic outline and scriptural references are listed as notes.
  • Impromptu preaching – preaching without previous preparation.



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