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When is a sermon ...?

Sunday, October 28, 2001

Thirtieth Sunday of the Year. Fr Duncan Campbell muses in a somewhat eccentric fashion on preaching, the clergy, and a story told by Jesus.

This is a sermon. A sermon is usually spoken, but can be written to be read, like this. It is an uninterrupted talk, like a lecture, but is meant to convey feelings as well as facts.

Anyone can preach a sermon, but people listen only to someone who is supposed to preach, and only when they are supposed to preach, at a church service, a wedding or a funeral.

A problem is that today fewer and fewer people agree about this. We feel that we have to pick up our ideas of life from all sorts of sources - the news, conversation, debates; doctors, scientists; even television, films and songs.

The traditional preachers, the clergy, can be the least helpful. They lead isolated lives. They are educated in strange ways. They seem to have got things wrong in the past, about science and sex and war and money - anything that matters. They don't try to run a business, or do an honest day's work. Some of them don't even get married. So what can they know about ordinary people's lives?

Clergy can come it over, pull rank, try to appear holier-than-thou, show off what they know about the Bible, or doctrines, or church matters. They can recite prayers. They can try to make everyone else feel small.

Well, some people like feeling small - and safe - and are comforted that there are the great and good to look after them. Real adults will have shaken off this feeling, will have taken charge of themselves, will have found their resources, their own motives, their own values.

We have learned that there are reasons for people doing the things they do. We can try to understand. To be able to understand is to be educated. It is wrong to criticise or scold or suggest, even in the mildest manner. Mark Twain made Huckleberry Finn call it all - 'tiresomeness'.

Are you still reading this - sermon?


Because you may agree with it, so far. You may be amused. Here's one who is admitting all this. You may be thinking he has got himself into a corner. You'll be watching for him to try to get out of it in some way. Does he think he can turn it all back round to where it starts again?

He could say - well, but what do you know? What do the cleverest know? About the future? Admit! Nothing. So. Anything is possible - God, Heaven, Hell ... the lot. Repent ... while there is still time ...

This preacher isn't clever enough to do that. In fact, he thinks it's a miserable line to take. It's like selling an insurance policy for something you hope will never happen.

He thinks there are signs to pick up here and now, in what's going on. How unhappy many people look in the street! What's wrong? Something is very wrong. Could it, should it, would it all be put right, if we find what we should be looking for all the time? Can we begin to look, to think, and do things about it? Is that what we must seek - and find?

There is a story once told by Someone that will be read in Catholic churches all round the world today, about two men coming to God. One proudly presented everything - and came away with nothing. The other sadly had nothing to give - and came away with everything.

Amazing, wonderful forgiveness. Love. To start with.

Do you know this? And how much do you need to know more of this? You will have to start coming to your friendly neighbourhood Catholic church.


Ecclus 35:12-14,16-18
2 Tim 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14


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