Writing Sermons

How do pastors write so many sermons on such varied topics?

The truth is that sermon writing is not so much about doctrinal study, or even a detailed study of scripture, as it is about the music you listen to when you write.

For example, during Easter, Christmas, Epiphany, etc. (the happy times), I listen to Bach’s Masses in G minor and A Major. They have a Gospel tone to them that is simply unbeatable. Happy, friendly, Gospel oriented sermons are the result.

During penitential seasons, Brahm’s Requiem does the trick. A good bit of Law to drive people to repentance, but one still finds the Gospel easily enough.

At least once in Advent and for the Good Friday Tenebrae, I put on something along the lines of Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War.” There is no joy in Mudville on such occasions. Similarly, for Easter Day, Holst’s “Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity” makes sure that only happy thoughts are to be found. (Lest I be accused of introducing paganism into my musical selections, this is the piece from which the melody for LSB 941 is drawn.)

Christmas Eve means Poulenc’s Christmas Motets, while Christmas Day is best written under the influence of the first half of Handle’s Messiah. Passiontide practically writes itself if I put on Arvo Part’s De Profundis.

For Trinity Season, the field is wide open. John Rutter is quite good for some early sections, as are Palestrina or Monteverdi (It’s a long season, and so changing the music prevents boredom or staleness in sermon preparation). Later portions (Michael Mass and Following) see Faure’s requiem as their inspiration. Just a hint of edge, but covered with the comfort of the Gospel.

And of course, the High Holy day of Lutheranism, Reformation Day, is written listening to the various settings of “Ein Feste Burg” that I have in my library. (I have a playlist with just various settings of that piece. It’s also handy  when travelling to church camp. Kids love listening to five different settings of “A Mighty Fortress” in a row.) Those sermons have more fightin’ words in them than a John Wayne movie.

No system is foolproof, but I find that if you pick the right music to listen to, the tone, feel, Law/Gospel balance, and even various parts of Doctrine in a given sermon all fall into place.

Oh, and one word of advice. Never, ever listen to John Williams when writing a sermon. Sure he’s written some great movie soundtracks. But you don’t want to have to explain to your board of Elders why, in the middle of the sermon, you suddenly started talking in your “Darth Vader” voice.

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