I have 822 sermons in my files.  Very few of them took me less than two hours to prepare, some of them a good deal more.  What is more, since I was born and was first taken to church to be baptised, as a blob of palpitating protoplasm, I  must have listened to several thousand sermons by others. 


Sermon Sedated

A little elementary arithmetic reveals that I have sermonised or been sermonised for  9510 hours.  That makes 397.9 days of my life. 


Over a year of my life has been sermonised away then.  If you leave out the time I have spent each night sleeping it makes it all but two years of my life that have been sermonised away!  I deserve some sort of a medal.  I am sermon drunk, drugged, drowsed, sedated. 


The longest sermon I have ever suffered was a forty five minute horror by a charismatic bishop in Grahamstown Cathedral in South Africa.  I was a theological student at the time and sang in the choir.  The tedium of sermons there was alleviated by the organist.  She was visible to my side of the choir, up in her loft, and during sermons she did violent physical jerks and little dances to keep her circulation going.


I have heard many bad sermons.  The worst involved the dramatic popping of a balloon.  Unfortunately the thing was so flaccid it wouldn't pop, it just squelched and squeezed. So no bang, not even a whimper, just embarrassed giggles.


The Best Sermons

As a deacon and assistant priest in a large cathedral in Africa I shared an office with a retired but still harnessed bachelor priest, a delightful old man called Lionel Gubbins.  He decided very early on in his ministry that he was no preacher and so never preached for longer than three minutes.  He was the most popular preacher of us all.  He was popular in other ways too. A great deal of his priestly life was spent avoiding proposals of matrimony.  One lady bribed his servant to allow her access in order to propose marriage to him as he ate breakfast.


The best sermons I ever listened to were in London when once I was on furlough there.  John Austin Baker was at that time the Vicar of St Margaret's Westminster and a Canon of Westminster Abbey.  He preached quiet, beautifully expressed and reasoned sermons in the tradition of Austin Farrer, orthodox but with a radical edge. 


Although I like forceful sermons I am not one for drama or histrionics in the pulpit.  Once though I went wild and red in the face in the pulpit myself.  In Harare Cathedral in Zimbabwe you had to wear a microphone on a cord round your neck.  After a startling and effective end to one of my sermons, I galloped down the pulpit steps forgetting the thing about my neck.  I was nearly throttled.  My Adam's Apple had its pips squeezed out and the crackling and shrieking, emitted by the tortured microphone, resounded and reverberated through the speakers, deafening the delighted congregation.


Praise or Flattery

Preachers should heed only criticism of their sermons.  Praise is nearly always mere flattery.  I have heard too many appalling sermons gushed and enthused over by uncritical admirers of colleagues ever to take praise too seriously. 


Parishioners are usually far too gentle and tactful ever to tell you the critical truth. I have received salutary criticism myself only a few times.  Once, as a deacon, I preached on the Trinity in Harare Cathedral.  As I glided, self‑satisfied, past the Dean's stall on the way back to my place, he whispered loudly for all the choir to hear, "Heresy!"   A diminutive, thoughtful Scotsman in my first parish once said to me as he left the church, "I liked the first half of your sermon, Rector, but the last half, man it was rubbish, bloody rubbish!" 


In that first parish there was an African woman who I like to think was mad.  When she came to church it was always late. As I began my sermon she would take out yesterday's paper, purloined from someone's bin, noisily unfold it and begin to read.  Perhaps the sanest person in the church. 


I always look forward to the sermon when visiting a church.  I love to hear the Gospel made sweet and articulate sense of.  I am nearly always disappointed.  Far too often all you get is platitudinous and ill‑prepared waffle.  At other times I feel like quoting the Frenchman who said, "Improve your style monsieur!  You have disgusted me with the joys of heaven."  A visitor to a Cardiff church admired the altar flowers once.  Agreeing on their beauty, the verger added, "On Sunday nights they are always given to those who are sick after the sermon."


But perhaps the wisest of all comments on being sermonised came from my father, who once said to me when he heard me complain of a sermon, "If you listen in the right spirit there will always be something to move your heart towards God.