Wednesday, September 03, 2008

More wordle clouds comparing various sermons

What makes a good sermon? What do the sermons sound like in a church that you'd never darken the doorway of? Are they indistinguishable from the sermons you hear every week? Does anyone advocate drowning of kittens? Are they all essentially relating the gospel, just with different personal testimony or perhaps political slants, or are some offering a secular message? Is there anything fundamentally different about the sermons of say,
i) San Francisco Bay Area Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregations who have signed on to a homosexual-welcoming agreement called "Reconciled in Christ" ?
ii) Martin Luther,
iii) conservative Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod preachers, and
iv) Jerry Falwell in his last two years.

I made wordle clouds of about ten sermons from each of the above and from the winning entries in the sermon-writing contest for ELCA seminarians that I myself had run, The Truth 'versus' Love Project. If you want to know my feelings about these various groups, my view is that Christianity needs some balanced mix of modern-day bleeding heart and eternal unchanging truths of the scriptures. I think that these groups go from bleeding heart at the expense of eternal truth, to a good balance, to eternal truth at the neglect of a bleeding heart, to eternal truth posited as in opposition to a bleeding heart.

And here they are:
1) Sermons of Five Bay- Area ELCA RIC Congregations. We see God, Life, Jesus. Cross, grace. Foriveness and saints are there. I don't see sin or law. Good and think are there. I'm guessing that the approach of these congregations is more about equipping saints for ministry, rather than calling to repentance of specific sins. I'd like to see what a "gay-friendly" and "law and gospel" sermon would look like.

2) In the Truth versus Love sermons, God, Jesus, and Christ are prominent. Law, poor, and people are next. Sheep, mercy, good, sin, Pharisees, and need are there. Righteousness, heaven, gospel, eternal, and resurrection also make an appearance. Million is there perhaps part of some statistic. I blogged earlier that this entire list gave me a warm feeling when I saw it. I do want to make a poster out of it.

3) In the sermons of Martin Luther, the words Christ, God, and must pop out. Must, from the best expositor of free grace the church has seen?! Good, works, gospel, faith, scriptures and Paul are there next. It being Luther, Jews and the pope have to make an appearance. Perhaps this is the only part I could do without. It's interesting that Jesus doesn't make an appearance, perhaps a part of personal preference in how to address the Lord.

4) In the sermons of LC-MS Pastors, we again see Jesus, Christ, life, and God prominently. Love, disciples, and church are next. Father is there unlike the other sermons, likely a reference to the Trinity in a closing blessing. Gospel, cross, confession; believe, grace, resurrection, and righteousness are there. Sometimes I wonder, "Forgiveness from what?"

5) Finally we come to ten randomly chosen sermons of Jerry Falwell. God is on top. Next come Jesus, Christ, Israel, heart, and ye, shall, know. Children jumps out here in a way not seen in any other group. Heaven, forgive, believe, works, and truth round out the list. I see Einstein, and am tempted to speculate this is part of a self-deprecating joke about his own intelligence.

I guess there's a danger in all of this, judging our brothers and sisters in the words they've prepared to explicate the Gospel. But in some sense every Sunday we do judge one church as being worthy of driving to over all the others. Do we know why we do this? Are we blindly choosing the religious tradition of our parents, as so many non-theists have accused? Of all the things that make congregations different from each other-- are these differences a part of our core convictions in the faith, or just what we ended up with? Is any one wrong? I started this exercise asking myself these questions, and am, so far in my study, only convinced that the different churches are in fact different. And only some of the differences were predictable.

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