The sermon is no joking matter

Lutheran pastor Burnell Eckardt mused about leading prayer at a church service and concluded that while doing so, he never has “the remotest thought of praying with levity or jocularity.”

Never is humor added as if to maintain the attention of people who might be silently praying along. Never in the prayers of the church, or for that matter, in personal prayers, is humor thought to be a helpful ingredient. . . .

This pastor, of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Kewanee, Illinois, thought it puzzling. “Whenever we speak to God we are dead serious. We are not trying . . . to be funny, or evoke laughter.”

(Let us hope so, though many a churchgoer would not be surprised by ill-timed attempts at humor.)

“Why then?” he asks, “is there [the urge] to employ levity or evoke laughter when it is time for us to hear God, when there is preaching?”

In the sermon, “the integration of God’s word with the words of the pastor . . . The Gospel is to be preached, not simply read aloud. . . . the same ought to be true of the sermon,” which also is “God’s word,” even if in the preacher’s own words.”

The preacher “is doing a holy thing. The sermon is “God’s word.” The sermon must be “norma normata, that is, ‘normed’ by the Scriptures,” which are to be its “guide and compass.” It must be “derived, governed by the Scriptures.” That is required of preachers, “though of course they have great latitude in how they preach and apply God’s word.”

But . . .

. . . the sermon is not stand up comedy. It is not a time to connect with the hearers in the way that motivational speakers might do. It’s different. It’s norma normata. Certainly the pastor is using the sermon to connect with the hearers, but . . . with levity? With jokes?

You don’t joke around when speaking to God, so why, then, should you joke around when you, O pastor, are the vehicle through which God is speaking? We are, as the catechism says, to hold preaching sacred. Certainly this applies to the preacher as well as to the hearers.

Indeed. This Lutheran has it right.

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