Sunday, November 19, 2006

Lack "The Word"? Buy a Sermon.

I had been so busy that I did not get a chance to read the WSJ this week. Consequently, I will give you two guesses what I am doing today--and if you get it wrong on the first guess, then I will be sorely disappointed.

Anyway, I ran across one article in my readings today that left me literally shaking my head in disbelief and contempt.

If you are not lucky enough to read the entire article via the aforementioned hyperlink, then here is the gist of it...

The sermon -- an oration traditionally expressing the thoughts of the cleric doing the talking -- has entered the age of reruns. Topics and transcripts are available on sites like,,, and In the old days, when a preacher wanted to pinch a sermon, he had to consult a book, a magazine or a sermon anthology.

The offerings have a multidenominational appeal, allowing Presbyterian traditionalists or megachurch evangelicals to download talks on faith, hope and charity for a few bucks, or even free of charge. Torah-Fax, in Davie, Fla., runs a sermon email subscription service for rabbis. Some sites pay the authors for individual sermons (about $50 apiece) and sometimes buy up sermon libraries.

Since the weeks following Hurricane Katrina, I have been largely frustrated by, and summarily dismissive of, the role of the church in our modern lives. It is not that my faith has been waning at all--nor has my belief in the spiritual purpose of this life lost its focus. Rather, I remain totally committed to the God I serve and to His Word. However, my grievance points definitely to so many of the men ordained to lead the rest of us. In fact, I have been disappointed in the idea that many of the words spoken by esteemed clergymen, particularly in black churches, had only turned out to be nothing more than, well, words.

Now it seems only fitting to learn that some of those words are not even their own.

In his famous letter from a dank Birmingham jail cell, Dr. Martin L. King wrote, "The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are."

Man, how would he feel about this?

Perhaps a majority of our pastors are, thankfully, not partaking in the practice of buying sermons, but that this phenomenon even shows up on the front page of a business daily only compliments the argument that the church is now in real dysfunction. Beyond the lack of authenicity on the pulpit, there is a grave lack of understanding amid the congregants. Indeed, substance is being replaced by style, and the goal of teaching is losing ground to the need for entertaining. Perhaps it is really no wonder that poverty remains undaunted and incipient, that our charities are starving for resources, that our society is without a moral compass, or that there is no meaningful, spiritual input on the ever-changing issues of our time.

Of course, we need real leadership, and it could come from our the holy altars of our churches.

But such leadership cannot come from men who have no true calling of their own, or who set aside their own for the easiest of paths, since anyone can recite the compelling words of any other. That takes little thought or consideration, and it will be of little service to the billions of Christians who will need genuine guidance in the face of the wonders and horrors ahead.

The Journal frames the practice of buying sermons as a debate about plagiarism, but I think it is much bigger than that. It is a debate about real leadership--who has it and who has to borrow it. And unfortunately, if we have to read about stuff like this on the front pages of the WSJ, then maybe we get a clear, albeit no less discouraging, idea of where that leadership does not reside...God help us.

Matt 5:16

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