Sermons rest between the Scripture readings of the day and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. They are delivered in a wide variety of ways and with varying degrees of intensity, purpose and vision. And while they are the clergy’s to prepare, the idea of a sermon truly speaking to a congregation is dependent on the congregation, on their experiences and dispositions, their own purpose and vision and understanding of faith.
Today, in a small New England church with simple lines and an early morning crowd, a sermon with purpose and meaning was delivered. It was not a repetition of what the readings said: it was an invitation to see rather than look, to begin to focus fully on what is really there. And so, for a bleary eyed congregation, the Transfiguration of Jesus somehow began to take on new meaning. They were words delivered with clarity and coherence, words shared with a quiet sense of confidence rather than intellectualization or arrogance.
Sermons like that are rare, but they are memorable. Those moments of illumination are more than worth the effort of listening and being fully present. There are other types of sermons that speak more than words. There was the brevity favored by a an aged pastor emeritus in the Bronx. Barely visible behind the podium, his rich voice demanded attention. He was succinct, calling out the congregation by age groups and a hearty “Listen up!” followed by a practical sentence or two about living life. Similar effect, very different style.
There have been others: the ones that draw laughter and some that win tears. Every once in a while, they are interrupted by applause or there is a specter of deep respectful silence, a sense of awe. There have been many times when the words of a homily floated about the church, unattached to the personal experience or somehow vaguely disconnected from the liturgy itself. And still, these are one of the moments where things can happen if allowed.
And it is part of the possibility of Catholicism to recognize that there is a chance to learn from one another, to connect with a story or to capture the facets of a moment in a new way. And there, tucked between the readings and the Eucharist, is one of these openings. In a complicated world with a tapestry of circumstances, a few words can be extremely efficient in eliciting more from the faithful.
The task of learning, learning to do good and to be better people, belongs to each of us everyday. And listening, discovering a sermon like the one this morning, is part of the chance to learn, one of the ways that can be accessed. And the gift is a treasure.