“I belong to a sermon church and in addition our church has always insisted on good music.” The speaker, a 39-year-old professional woman from Pittsburgh, was describing her Presbyterian Church in an established Pittsburgh neighborhood. We were part of a group of bicyclists gathered for dinner at a surprisingly up-scale restaurant in Confluence, Pennsylvania, all of us cycling sixty miles a day along the C&O Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage.
Three days later, as I was continuing my bicycle trip, now on the Old National Road (U S 40), I happened upon a church of my persuasion (Christian Church, Disciples of Christ), at church time and when I was in need of a break. A greeter suggested that I stash my bike under the coat rack, pointed me to the rest room, and offered me coffee
To my surpise, I heard the kind of sermon my cycling companion from the big city may have had in mind. It was grounded in an important text from the Sermon on the Mount–Matthew 5:21-43–and was imaginatively adapted to contemporary times. Instead of being an exhortation telling people that their church had to change, this sermon was in the indicative mood. It included a careful explanation of what it means for all of us to live in a post-modern, post-Christendom period of time.
It was refreshing to hear such a constructive set of important ideas in an ordinary sermon, on an ordinary Sunday, in an ordinary church. It was twenty-one minutes long, delivered with animation from a manscript, a little rough around the edges, but for me, at least, a compelling message.
Especially interesting is the fact that this preacher was also a young woman who obviously believes that serious preaching about important ideas still has a place in churches that want to appeal to a post-modern generation living in a post-Christendom world.
At the door, the preacher told me that she’s doing continuing education online provided by Andover Newton Theological Seminary. Some of the ideas in that sermon came from these studies.
This congregation may not think of itself as a sermon church, but that’s what it was for me. Thanks to this good sermon (and the Eucharist that followed), I have something to ponder this week as I continue my westward bicycle journey on America’s National Road.