25 November 2007

Homiletical Aphorisms

1. Speak what needs to be said, and then be silent; there is no virtue in rambling and it is rude to your hearers.

2. Never lose sight of your goal: that Christ be formed in the hearer.

3. Begin with the readings and feed the people of God from them.

4. Honor your fathers - study how the readings have been proclaimed in the Church - this is far more helpful, interesting, and important that spending time in modern commentaries. Pride of place should be given to Luther's Postils in your reading, but don't forget that HE got much of his insight from the fathers who came before him, especially St. John Chrysostom.

5. In honoring your fathers, pay special heed to the points at which they seem to be silly; be silent before them and listen, think and ponder what they say. Their folly may be the wisdom of God.

6. A sermon that does not get the hearers to the Cross has been worthless, for the Cross is the prism from which we view all things, and is it the key to unlocking the Sacred Scriptures.

7. Pay special heed to the Jesus "proprium." That is, what do these readings give you of Jesus that they alone give?

8. If you think you understand the OT without referring it to Him who said that the Moses and the Prophets testify of Him, you have not understood it at all.

9. The pulpit is not the place for your bright ideas, it is for speaking the Words of the Lord.

10. The pulpit is not the place for being polite: do not hesitate to call sin what it is and to call people to repent.

11. Never step into the pulpit without having prayed for God to open your lips that your mouth may declare His praise.

12. By the time Sunday evening has fallen, you should already have read the pericopes for the upcoming Sunday, and you should reread them frequently during the week, to live with and truly hear the Words of God before you try to speak them.

13. If you use "you" law (and it is law at its most potent), do not neglect to find ways to indicate to the congregation that you are very much under the same condemnation.

14. Avoid "we" gospel - for the Gospel's very essence is in its "for-you-ness."

15. Forgiveness is not a "thing" and you shouldn't make it sound like it is some kind of "get out of hell free card" that you hand over; rather make sure that forgiveness comes across as God finding the way to come to your hearers in mercy and love so that His very presence does not destroy them in their sin, but destroys their sin in them.

16. Don't waste time on telling folks how to live the blessed life before you've taught them inside and out how to die the blessed death; if they know how to die in faith, living in faith is sort of a "duh."

17. Don't preach Law - Gospel - Law. Instead preach Law - Gospel - Mystical Union.

18. Remember that preaching the Gospel is not only a means of CREATING faith; but it is one of God's prime means of SUSTAINING faith.

19. You cannot remind your hearers too often that they are "people loved by God."

20. Eucharistic preaching does not mean tacking an irrelevant reference to the Eucharist to the end of your sermon; it means to summon the baptized to that the Blood that cleanses the world from sin and the Body that belongs to God enfleshed as our brother; gifts which are not distant and imaginary, but real and will be shortly be upon the altar, in the pastor's hand and in their mouths.


Fr John W Fenton said...

Although I might quibble with one or two of these, on the whole I would concur. But as I read, I wondered what might have prompted such aphorisms. Perhaps something you've recently heard or said? Perhaps something you've been thinking for sometime? Perhaps a combination?

William Weedon said...

Fr. John,

Nothing too mysterious. A combo of hearing preaching for the past two weeks (an exemplary homily last week and a homily by a seminarian this week) and the fact that I'm to present on preaching this summer at a conference in Canada. I thought I'd throw the thoughts running through my head out to see if I might gain any wisdom from critiques of others. So, I'd be interested in your quibbles - I always learn a great deal from you, Father.

Rebekah said...

Aphoristic aphorism: aphorisms are pithy. ;)

William Weedon said...

Yeah, yeah. Call them Homiletical Ramblings then. ;)

Susan said...

16. Don't waste time on telling folks how to live the blessed life before you've taught them inside and out how to die the blessed death; if they know how to die in faith, living in faith is sort of a "duh."

May I please ask what you mean by "how to die the blessed death in faith?" Thank you.

BLDavis said...

Re: 14. Avoid "we" gospel - for the Gospel's very essence is in its "for-you-ness."

I think I know what you mean, but I'm not sure I want to follow you here. There is always the danger - a danger that Lutheran theology too often succumbs too, IMO, - that gospel preaching becomes overly existential, individualized, and ripped away from its covenantal and narrative context. Then biblical language of a restored people and a restored creation gets lost.

Could you help me out with what you exactly mean by 14?

William Weedon said...


Let me give a personal answer. I got a phone call this morning about 6:45. My dear friend and parishioner Paul was dying. I got to the hospital about 7:25 and his wife and children were gathered. Soon his brother and sisters joined us. We prayed, we sang, we comforted him with the Word of God, with the songs of the liturgy and with hymns. We stood in the face of death as it was taking a man whom we all loved very dearly and we announced to death its ultimate defeat because Paul had been baptized into Christ Jesus and Christ was Paul's life. His sins were forgiven. His death destroyed. Paul knew how to die the blessed death. He knew what was coming for him and he faced it unflinchingly. He knew it wasn't his end at all. Because he knew that His Redeemer had died on Calvary's cross to answer for his every sin and that He had risen from the dead to bring His people into a life that death cannot touch ever - he entrusted himself into the Lord's hands, praying "thy will be done."

And this man who was ready to die - who knew how to die the blessed death - was a man whose life radiated the joy of the resurrection and the hope that was his. He was filled with love and he poured it out in abundance on all who came his way. I cannot even begin to tell you how much people love this man. Ready to die with his Lord and knowing he would rise with him set him free from selfish worry and concern. He LIVED! And so He LIVES!

William Weedon said...


The "for you ness" of the Gospel embraces the gift of covenant, new creation, the lot. When Christ gives His new covenant blood to drink in the holy chalice, He speaks the most joyful words: "For you, for the forgiveness of sins." THIS is the new covenant!

And it was the mark of the Gospel from its angelic beginnings: "For TO YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

So, when I preach, I do try to avoid saying: "God loves US so much that He gave His only begotten Son." That's true. But how much more powerful when the preacher looks you in the eye and says: "God loves YOU so much that He gave His only begotten Son.... You are precious to Him... You are His very own."

Susan said...

Thank-you for your personal, patient, detailed, and beautiful answer to my question. I very much appreciate you fleshing it out for me with such clarity and for including the paradox of sorrow and joy when a beloved one dies in Christ. It is a beautiful story. Please accept my inadequate condolences and quiet joy. I know you and many others will miss him more than words can ever convey and yet because of Christ Jesus, I know you have His peace that passes all understanding and the future joy of reunion that awaits because of the certain hope only He can give. I am grateful.

aka Lutheran Lady

P.S. Truthfully, I like the way you answer everyone's questions. Reading your blog, the comments, and the Q & A is quite rewarding. Gracias.

Fr John W Fenton said...

Pr Weedon,

Unless my Greek grammar fails me (which is entirely possible), it seems that the "for you" in Lk 22.19 and 1 Cor 11.24 is not "for thee" (i.e., singular, individual) but "for you" (i.e., plural, corporate). The same seems to be true of the "to you" in Lk 2.11, which is not "to thee."

Furthermore, if the noun "world" is changed into a personal pronoun, then plural ("us, you, them") would be more grammatically consonant than singular ("me, thee, he").

William Weedon said...

Fr. John,

I am not arguing for the "you" to be singular to be full force Gospel - in fact, I'd agree that that would not be it at all! But the force of the Gospel resides, I would argue, in the second person (and pardon the pun). The good news is proclaimed, indeed, "to all y'all." :)

William Weedon said...


Thanks for the kind words. Paul was truly one of God's saints - one of those few people you meet on this earth whose lives shine with the goodness of Him to whom they are joined.

Fraser Pearce said...

A very encouraging post. Thanks!

I also like your posts on fasting - good stuff.

William Weedon said...

Thanks, Pastor Pearce.

L P Cruz said...

Pr. Will,

No worries on "you" -singular/plural.

The "you" singular is subsumed (as we say in maths - set theory) in the "y'all". Or "y 'all" plural includes -- you too.

But I like the bit
Don't preach Law - Gospel - Law. Instead preach Law - Gospel - Mystical Union.

Thanks for this, I will keep this in my wallet.


Cindy said...

Could you explain what you mean by "mystical union" in #17? Is this sort of like the "tension of the paradox" concept?

William Weedon said...

Mystical union refers to the union that takes place between Christ and the believer. It's what St. Paul referred to in detail in Gal. 2:20. His peace becomes our peace. His joy, our joy. His love, our love. He pours Himself into us wholly and we find in Him our very life. It's the freight behind St. Paul's oft stated "in Christ." Thus, after the Law has condemned us, slain us, exposed and eliminated our excuses; after the Gospel has been proclaimed, imparting to us forgiveness, pardon, redemption. Then the homily moves to the life that Christ now reaches us in union with Himself. This is the future age that is coming in the world, and He gives it to us now to live in - so that we live as colonists of the future - our real life being Christ and so wholly love.