Caution: This post contains medically significant levels of sarcasm
Minister friend, via email: ARGHHH I am stressed because my week got ahead of me and now it’s Saturday and I have very little time in which to write the distinctly mediocre sermon I will deliver tomorrow!
Me: Don’t worry, I can help. I know EXACTLY how to write a mediocre sermon. I have done so many.
A Helpful Sermon Writing Guide for Writing Mediocre* Sermons
*“Mediocre” is polite Canadian-speak for “bad”.
Step One, Choose topic. Please pick one:
a) Why x people are all terrible: Choose a complex topic such as politics, gun control, or race relations. Simplify it like a math equation, until there are two clear sides. Set up camp on one side or the other, and explain how evil/stupid/delusional the other side is. Wave your arms a lot. Use hashtags.
b) Why we are all terrible. (Variant: Why we are fine and there’s nothing wrong with us—either one will do). This is a great one for tricky situations of victimization. Like race relations, or sexual violence. The crucial part is to focus a lot on guilt. Why we should feel guilty (or, alternatively, why other people should feel guilty). By focussing on guilt, we keep the conversation helpfully centred on ourselves.
c) How the world is changing, and what we need to do to ensure the survival of our churches and institutions. (This one is particularly great because you get to say the word “millennials” a lot. Be sure to also say “nones”). If you can, include a QR code up on the power point. You will look SO COOL. Don’t worry if you don’t know what the QR code does—nobody will know how to use it anyway.
d) The Atheism versus Theism debate (be sure to use the word “versus”, and imply that it is a power struggle with finite resources). (Note: If you are from a religion that has decided about God, choose some other meaningless divide like women who stay home vs women who work, or same sex couples vs opposite sex ones).
e) What the point/mission/core of UUism is. Be sure to bluster about all the navel gazing. I have written so many sermons on the core of UUism, then so many sermons about how we should stop talking about the core of UUism, which was very meta. I am sure people found this riveting, and not ironic at all. (Note: I get TRIPLE POINTS for continuing to focus on this issue, even in this guide. Because I am so self aware. I could delete this whole paragraph, but I will not, because then you would not know how self aware I am).
Step One, Write introduction. Choose word, and fill in blanks using that word:
____<insert word here>_________ . The Oxford English Dictionary defines this as ____<insert definition>___. It comes from the Latin root _____________. As Unitarian Universalists, we all believe different things about ___<word>_____.
For the purposes of this sermon, I will define ___<word>__ as _______ <— Insert your own definition here. It doesn’t have to be related to the Oxford one—language is not a democracy. You are talking, so you choose. Just make up something you like.
Step Two, provide context:
Just complain about bad things in the world for a bit. Reference Trump. We don’t hear enough about Trump.
Step Three, key arguments and solutions:
Think of this as like a shooting video game where you get points for how many of each of a variety of things you hit. Jump around from thing to thing, scoring points. The grading system is as follows:
Story from any faith tradition other than UU or Judeo-Christian: 5 points.
Story from Judeo-Christian tradition: -2 points.
Academic research/study citation: 5 points.
Each word with four or more syllables: 2 points.
Theological/Academic argument: Graded on basis of complexity—beginning at two paragraphs, add one point for each paragraph required to explain the point.
Acronyms, insider terms, and other language that makes everyone feel like they are a tight happy club: One point per term.
Humour: -10 points. People do not come to church for entertainment, they come for how wise you are.
Note: I find it helpful to think in terms of “line of sight to daily life”. If you are saying things that have a direct line of sight to people’s lives, they will think you are not that impressive, and they will wonder why you spent all that money on school and what all those books in your office are for.
Step Four, hope:
Tell them that there are no easy solutions, but that wrestling with these things is what it means to be human and how we find meaning in our lives.
Step Five, call to action:
Tell them that what matters is that their awareness has been raised and they think about the world differently. Try not to assign too specific a timeline as to how long that thinking has to last, because they will not remember your sermon in an hour. (I think they must put a drug in the fair trade coffee. That is the only explanation I can think of for how my sermons are always so quickly forgotten).
Step Six, Conclusion:
I usually just put that Mary Oliver quote about geese in here. If you are stuck, you can just end with announcements. They are the sacred weapon of liturgy.
Note: I typed “secret weapon originally”, but it autocorrected, so I left it that way.
I have used these techniques to produce SO many successful sermons. By “successful” I mean long. 3,500 words, minimum, but they felt like twice that. Good luck.