At some point I will write a review of Preaching on Your Feet by Fred Lybrand. I need to finish it first. Today I’d just like to raise an interesting thought. Is there a connection between plagiarism and the way most preachers preach? To put it another way, is it possible to steal your own sermon?
Stealing sermons isn’t good. Maybe you’ve tried it. Maybe you’ve heard it. (Maybe you do it every week – and sing private praise songs about the internet!) No matter how good the original, no matter how well-crafted the wording, no matter how inspiring the passion, or amusing the anecdotes, somehow a stolen sermon can only be, as Phillips Brooks described it, a “feeble echo” of the original power. It seems to bounce around in the second preacher’s head and come out as an echo. It doesn’t resonate from every fiber of his being, it pings out with all the added noise and cavernous emptiness of a poor recording from a low quality cassette player.
Lybrand raises the possibility that preachers of integrity (ie. not verbatim sermon stealers) might still preach with the same kind of echo. It’s easy to preach on Sunday morning, referring to notes that prompt your thinking back to your preparation on Thursday. It’s easy to be preaching trying to recall exactly how you had it before. It’s not as hollow an echo as a sermon that has bounced through cyberspace (or even through history!) and landed in your memory. But there is still a hollow-ness. Still an echo. Somehow we can fall into preaching the sermon of another preacher – that is, the sermon of you three or four days ago (and God has changed you since then).
I won’t offer Lybrand’s solution today. I’ll just leave this as a point to ponder as we wrestle with how to really preach, how to really connect with real people at a real moment in time.