You’ll find today’s sermon is now up on the Web site of First Unitarian in New Bedford. [Note: no longer on Web site.] I ad libbed more than usual this morning, so if you were here to hear the sermon, you’ll find the written version is significantly different.
I remain ambivalent about making sermons available in written form, because I don’t think of them as a written genre, but rather as an oral genre. I found a little booklet of a sermon series preached here at First Unitarian in 1943 by Duncan Howlett, and they are prefaced with this note:
Through the generosity of one of our members, the series was taken down stenographically. As theses sermons were delivered without notes or manuscript, it has been necessary to rework the material for printing. The spoken word rarely makes good reading.
The last sentence expresses my thoughts exactly; I’d only except a few of Jonathan Edwards’s sermons. Nor do I feel audio recordings do justice to sermons. There’s something about a sermon which requires you to be there, to be a part of the congregation. You’re not just listening to a sermon, you’re sitting there with other people, you’re singing hymns together, the sermon is just one little piece of an entire worship exeperience.
Yet at the same time, there is a long American tradition of sermons serving as a means for exchanging theological ideas. Maybe that’s why I am ambivalent about reading contemporary sermons: too many contemporary sermons do not address theological issues at all.