When was the last time you heard a truly great sermon? This week’s clergy discuss preaching that has not only stayed with them but also influenced their own efforts at guiding a congregation.
The Rev. William McBride
Religious director, Interfaith Community Religious Education Program, Brookville Multifaith Campus
The sermon that has impressed me the most was delivered by Walter Burghardt, a Jesuit priest, at the United Nations Holy Family Parish on Good Friday more than 20 years ago. Rev. Burghardt was billed as one of the top 10 preachers in the country. He was known for delivering sermons with three points and profound implications for life. That day his three points were clear. First, sin divides us. Second, suffering unites us. Third, surprise awaits us. The preacher illustrated his points with precise examples drawn from his life as theologian, teacher and pastor. His way of delivering the message and focusing on each one of us in the crowd moved me on a very personal level. After the sermon, I remember talking to a friend about the impression the 70-something, gray-haired priest in the pulpit made on me. I said, “He was like a crafty veteran baseball pitcher standing on the mound throwing his best stuff. Sin and suffering were at the plate.” The friend replied, “And God was his catcher.” The spirit of wonder with which he faced these challenges thrilled me. His wise choice of words reminded me of the enduring power of words to help me face life. Knowing how much work it took him to craft this work of art encouraged me to keep working on my God-given talents. I can summarize the impressiveness of Burghardt’s preaching with a three-point message starting with the letter “W” in honor of Walter. First, wonder instructs and inspires your heart. Second, words teach you to play your wisest part. Third, work develops your craft and your art.
Rabbi Mendy Goldberg
Lubavitch of the East End, Coram
Many sermons are spoken to the crowd where one speaks and all listen, hoping to be inspired and maybe even moved by what is sermonized by the desire of the orator. The greatest and most impressive sermon I’ve heard was full of empowerment. It continues to give me the energy and the stamina to continue to do what I do, day in, day out, regardless of the challenges that lay ahead. This was a talk given by my mentor, teacher and leader of world Jewry, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson (1902-1994), on the day he assumed leadership in February of 1951. I heard it the first time in a recording, and personally when the Rebbe repeated the message many times. Here is my translation from the original Yiddish: “Every individual wherever they may find themselves is not by chance. Each one of us is charged with a unique mission that only we can do and give this world, and the reason we are at a particular crossroads at any given time is because we ought to do the given task at the given time. No matter on what level we may be at, we have to share and give. If you know Alef (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), you must teach Alef.” He continued to say, “A soul can come to this world for 70-80 years just to do one physical favor for another.” As would be the Rebbe’s modus operandi for the 42 years of his leadership, he would not only sermonize but would practice and empower all those he encountered and those who met him to be shining lights to their families, cities, nations and world at large. The Rebbe would constantly remind us, “It is our one random act of goodness and kindness that will bring world transformation.” His sermons to this day remind me of the beacon of light and positivity, and the need to bring about divinity and true change, with peace and everlasting harmony to all of humankind.
Samantha’s Lil Bit of Heaven Ministries, East Northport
I love to learn and have listened to thousands of sermons from teachers all over the world. For a sermon to impress me it must answer a few questions: Does it challenge me? Correct me? Change me? Is there Scripture to back it up? Does it talk to my natural man (what I “want” to hear) or to my spirit (what I “need” to hear?) In a world where the Gospel and God’s word has been so watered down, it is sometimes hard for one to tell the difference between a talk that makes you feel good and a teaching that transforms you. Does it create in me a desire to take action? Knowledge does not become wisdom until it is applied. Does it have an “ouch” factor? True biblical teaching should convict me (not condemn me) through revelation and correction, to not want to settle where I am spiritually. Instead it should challenge me to grow closer to fulfilling the destiny God has for me. Lastly, does the message have such an impact on me that I want to share it? Holding back a teaching that has transformed my life would be nothing more than spiritual hoarding. An impressive sermon to me is one that answers all of the above questions. What I glean from that message becomes a game-changer for me, my walk of faith and those I share it with.