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Homily or sermon?

November 17, 2007

My favorite website for presentations is hands down Presentation Zen. This site has mentored me over the past year in the art and skill of making presentations. i do not claim to be an presentation expert but simply a growing practitioner. I have been thinking a lot about the difference between a homily and sermon as they are popularly understood and want to say a word in praise of the former. The homily is typically…

1. Short > people like short these days.

2. Based on scripture (as opposed to many modern day sermons and sermon series that are based on needs and contain supporting scriptures… not to say theses sermons are not scriptural. many of them are. But they are not arising directly out of the scripture. A homily is simply a retelling of a bible story, in context with commentary and application. Similar but there are subtle differences…

3. Focus on a gospel passage/story.

For more historical info on the development of the homily see

Are there other resources you like for developing talks/sermons/homilies?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2007 3:25 pm

    thanks for those links kevin…awesome!

    i agree with the approach…i think in most churches i visit, the empasis on teaching is a little overbearing (and models that one thing might be much more important than another)…like 20 minutes of worship songs, followed by public announcements (in which many people dis-engage from worshipping and do not listen to [can you tell that is one of my pet-pieves]), followed by 45 to 50 minutes of preaching/teaching. i would love to see the church in north america more balanced in worship services, between worship songs/time, teaching and time for prayer and some sort of interactive element that invites people into community (of course, i am talking about typical Sunday church as most practice it)…thus modeling a fuller expression of who we are…

    anyway, i’m off to dig further into these links…

    peace my friend…

  2. November 17, 2007 4:28 pm

    Just a short comment from the Speckled Bird – I think the long sermon type of deal tends to have behind it a short-haul philosophy of spiritual change. The short homily tends to have behind it a long-haul understanding of spiritual change. I mean – it’s not all going to “get done” today – it may take years for certain things to happen – so simple, perhaps short expositions are all we “need” today, then another tomorrow and on and on until you’re gray-headed and finally get it. Just a quick thought. Peace.

  3. November 23, 2007 1:31 pm

    To expand on Alan’s comment, I also think the long sermon form has behind it the philosophy that spiritual change comes by learning ideas, and is a fairly clear, trackable, surface process. The homily form presumes that the entire liturgy forms and converts, and that the homily is only one part of that process. Active participation in the *entire event* (and in its extension into the surrounding world), not just my words as I give a homily, will be forming someone regularly over 50-70 years. Thus, for the homily to last more than about 20-25% of the whole service is a distortion of its role, in that view.

    In this scenario the preacher’s job is more to discern and highlight where the action of the Spirit is that day — to open a door through a much less intellectualized process for God to apply perhaps one facet of the truths highlighted in the liturgy that day to someone. I’m a matchmaker, not a teacher, and the language of the homily should contribute to that atmosphere.

    When we were doing our year going around the world, we had a “no Anglican churches” rule, so almost every Sunday we were somewhere in France or Germany or South Africa etc where the form of church was what Steven described — 20 min of singing followed by 45-50 min of, almost always, a white male giving a lecture. Lots of the singing was great, and some of the lectures were very good and thought provoking, and we experienced the grace of God over and over. However, I didn’t feel like we had been to church the whole year, or worshipped God in a participatory way with his Body, but rather shown up at a series of (very helpful and interesting) mini-conferences.

    I will also say that I am just back from Mexico where I went to 5 masses in a week and heard a lot of truly bad homilies (which I could tell even with limited Spanish), so the homily form alone is not the answer!


  1. Homily v. Sermon « Christ Church (beta)

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