I have never liked sermons.
They are three points too many and fifteen-to-twenty minutes longer than necessary. Even then, it took my church years — years — to get through Jeremiah, verse by verse. My then-boyfriend, a Catholic used to getting through most of Scripture every year, cracked up about this. He’d call me on Sundays and ask, “Still going through Jeremiah?”
“Actually, we just finished,” I said, “and we’re starting a new book.”
“Oh, really? Which one?”
But hey, I give a Baptist church props for reading the Old Testament at all!
Being in a relationship with a Catholic, I heard his odd complaints about Protestant church services, like, “Why do these churches call themselves ‘Bible’ churches when there’s more Scripture read at a Catholic church?” But all of his occasional, confused questions ultimately went back to this point: “Why are the sermons so long?”
I didn’t get his exasperation until I spent half the year in Catholic and Orthodox churches. Their homilies are blessedly, blessedly short. They’re more pastoral. They have one point. They’re about fifteen minutes tops, because everyone’s really here for the Eucharist, not a crash course in systematic theology or verse by verse exposition of Jeremiah.
I love that for two reasons: (1) you’re not sitting there crossing and uncrossing your legs and wiggling and wishing with all your might that you were that two-year-old passed out in his mom’s arms. (2) Less sermon time means more participation. Even though Orthodox liturgy takes longer than the average Protestant service, we’re singing almost the entire time. We’re crossing, bowing, and prostrating. All five of our senses are engaged in worship.
Now that I’m used to short homilies, I’ve lost all patience for long sermons, especially those that go over their allotted time by twenty minutes because the pastor keeps telling stories. I get so passionately grumpy about this issue.
I attended a Christian educators’ conference with three fifty-minute sermons in two days. The irony was we would get out of hour-long sessions telling us the importance of utilizing all three learning styles (kinesthetic, auditory, and visual), differentiating for different students, and moving quickly to maintain student interest….and then we would sit for the same amount of time listening to speakers who did none of those things.
I’m a kinesthetic learner, and I was having none of it.
It was ages since I heard a long Protestant sermon, with that intro of getting everybody to shout “GOOD MORNING!” at the top of our lungs as if we’re eight-year-olds, and then that good ol’ liturgical phrase, “Now take your Bibles and turn to the book of Luke. The book of Luke.” The pause for dramatic effect. Then the well-scripted, articulate launch into the first tangential story.
Fifty minutes later I woke up to the crowd laughing at the pastor, who was still milking that same funny story, the same line, for five minutes, over and over again, as if he were a stand-up comedian. By that time, we’d all forgotten what his second point was.
And we still had the third point to go.
How do you feel about sermon lengths?