You may have noticed that in recent weeks there have not been many new sermons on the blog. There has been a variety of reasons:
- I’ve simply forgotten to post them
- I’ve repeated old ones.
Last weekend and this weekend, the latter reason applies. Last week, I sat down to write a sermon on a passage I’ve expounded a few times. I struggled all week. Eventually on Saturday I slogged down word after word, having found what I thought was a decent way into the passage. And although by some time gone midnight I had finished it, I was uneasy all day about it. I didn’t have a problem with the content, but it didn’t seem to catch fire. In desperation the next morning, I printed off one of my old sermons on the reading, read it through and scribbled some amendments in the margins. It helped that I was not preaching at one of my two churches, and I felt much happier with it. Certainly it seemed to connect with people.
This week, my feet have hardly touched the ground. It’s harvest festival this weekend; early in the week I looked up suggested Lectionary passages, and settled on one. However, I’ve had no chance for decent, sustained reflection on it. I don’t think it’s right to note down some quick, gut-level scattershot ideas and waffle them into a sermon. I know some people have very quick thinking processes, but one of the things I know about myself is I’m generally a better decision-maker when I take my time. So again, I’m calling up one of my older sermons and amending it for Harvest. I know there are some of you out there who like to read my sermon on Saturday night before Sunday morning worship, even if you’re going to be in the congregation, but I’m sorry, it just hasn’t been possible.
There was a time in my preaching life when I never would have done this. As a young Local Preacher, I once remember my minister saying to me, “When you need to repeat a sermon …”. I told him confidently (well, I thought it was confidently at the time, perhaps it was arrogantly) that I would never do such a thing. I thought that to repeat a sermon was to compromise the prophetic nature of that word to the congregation for whom it had been prepared. That same minister said to me that regular preaching was often more about the ‘eternal’ word rather than the ‘now’ word.
Actually, I think it’s a bit of both. Preaching needs to be rooted in God’s word for all time. Pastorally, this is the food with which the flock is nourished. But it also needs to have an edge for today, for living here and now under the reign of God. So I don’t think there’s any harm in prayerfully taking an old sermon where I have spent time seriously dwelling on the meaning of the Scriptures and retooling it for a new congregation.
I wouldn’t put it like another of my ministers did, when he said he never wrote a new sermon from scratch. He had a good reason: he said that if he couldn’t improve on an old sermon, then there was something wrong with his own growth in Christ. Commendable as that is, I think that’s taking things too far. It assumes you have already covered all the bases, and you just need to find the one that needs finessing this time.
But what do you think? Is it justifiable to repeat a sermon? If so, under what circumstances and in what ways? If not, why?
Over to you.