bad dog…

Sermon. What a dull word. And more than one sermon has been less the sight of a burning bush than it’s been the smell of something fusty, as pages are turned. There are sermons were you feel nothing’s actually being said or what has been said is so blindingly obvious it shouldn’t need to be. What about the preacher who vents his theological spleen, so all the congregation hear is a kind of verbal waving of a finger: bad dog! bad dog! And they leave with their tails between their legs.

I’ve been guilty of all the preaching crimes and misdemeanors.

the end of sermons…

Let’s stop it shall we?

No lets not. Because there are other sermons when what’s spoken tingles with the electricity of more happening – a life changing more. In the deeply hidden, partly hidden, never forgotten, hoped for and regretted, where we keep our loss and longing for beauty and love – we are encountered. We might not even be able to articulate what’s going on. But we are spoken to. Listen to the Novelist Frederick Buechner describe what happened to him:

… for the first time in my life that year in New York, I started going to church regularly, and what was farcical about it was not that I went but my reason for going, which was simply that on the same block where I lived there happened to be a church with a preacher I had heard of and that I had nothing all that much better to do with my lonely Sundays. What drew me more was whatever it was that his sermons came from and whatever it was in me that they touched so deeply.

And then there came one particular sermon with one particular phrase in it that does not even appear in a transcript of his words that somebody sent me more than twenty-five years later so I can only assume that he must have dreamed it up at the last minute and ad-libbed it and on just such foolish, tenuous, holy threads as that, I suppose, hang the destinies of us all. Jesus Christ refused the crown that Satan offered him in the wilderness, Buttrick said, but he is king nonetheless because again and again he is crowned in the heart of the people who believe in him. And that inward coronation takes place, Buttrick said, “among confession, and tears, and great laughter.”

It was the phrase great laughter that did it, did whatever it was that I believe must have been hiddenly in the doing all the years of my journey up till then. It was not so much that a door opened as that I suddenly found that a door had been open all along which I had only just then stumbled upon. After church, with a great lump still in my throat, I walked up to 84th Street to have Sunday dinner with Grandma Buechner. 

Frederick Buechner – the sacred journey

That’s why the art of preaching is awesome. In a good sermon the spirit glides over the waters of our chaos and we are encountered by more than we know and more than we can say. It changes our direction and destiny. God in other words meets us in the stories, letters, poems as they are retold with graced imagination. And in hearing not only do we get to be known by God, we begin to know ourselves.

Anyway, faithful wee flock, we will now be regularly posting videos of sermons on the law parish church website ( which means sermons won’t make the occasional visit here anymore.

There will be no bad dog sermons. I can’t promise there won’t be the odd whiff of fustiness. I hope they aren’t so obvious they shouldn’t need to be said. And mostly sermons are like manna – bread for the day.

A good sermon is a burning bush; a quietness that lets us hear more than the loops we keep playing to ourselves. God speaks – more than words through fallible sermons and preachers.


4 thoughts on “bad dog…

  1. Paul. as you may recall, the words of a ‘sermon’ or ‘address’ you gave to some elderly ex POWs and their families some years ago still resonate. The right words have power and meaning!


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