One of our best historians, Tom Holland, whose book on the influence of Christianity, Dominion, is well-worth reading (and would make an excellent Christmas present), has written a moving account of his return to the Church of England here. It speaks for itself, and I hope that readers here who have not come across it will be edified by it.
One of the things which struck me was something which has been nagging at the back of my mind for a while, one of those things which, until you suddenly realise what it was, baffles you and can be vaguely irritating, and that is the power of a good sermon. It made me stop and think about the last time I heard a good sermon, and unless one counts (which I am inclined to) listening to Rowan Williams in a church, then I can’t remember. That’s not to say I have not heard interesting sermons which made some good points, but it is to say that what I would call a “good” sermon does more than that.
I usually read sermons after Morning Prayer, and have recently finished those by Austin Farrer, which I would highly recommend; he knew how to pitch a sermon. My usual standby is, of course, Newman’s Sermons Parochial and Plain which can all be found on the internet here. There is a vigour and a charism about them which makes them as compelling now as when they were delivered. In the past here I have included some of by Pusey, which can be a little hard going and, much more than Newman’s, are of their time. For those, like me, who like a good meaty sermon, these, by Gervase Charmley of Bethel, Hanley, I recommend, and they bear hearing more than once, which is usually the sign of a good sermon. My latest reading is Preaching, Radical & Orthodox, which I have recently begun, and which I also heartily recommend.
One question, put to me by a friend, was whether sermons were the same as homilies? I tend to think not, but that may simply be because I find an eight to ten minute talk a little like an hors d’ouvre without a main course.
It is tempting to say that it is the style of the preacher which creates the impact, but by common testimony neither Newman nor Farrer were great showmen. However, there can be no doubt that a great presentation can enhance a good sermon, and here one of those mentioned by Tom Holland stands out for me, and that is Fr Marcus Walker, the Rector of Great St Bartholemew’s in London, whose sermons, though on the short side, do indeed raise one’s thoughts – and mood. Some of them can be found here, and will, I hope, edify others as they have myself and Tom Holland.
In the beginning was the Word, and it is good to be reminded by Tom Holland of the part the spoken word can play in bringing us to Christ.
- And if you enjoyed Fr Marcus’ sermons, or would like to help maintain Great St Bart’s, there’s a link here towards restoration.