“Do You Hear What I Hear?”

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)

Ear (small)
What is the preacher saying? I don’t get it. I don’t understand. Who or what is that Matrix thing he was talking about in his sermon? These are probably just some of the questions the hearers are saying to themselves or to one another on Sunday after after lunch.

What does the preacher do all week? How does he go about writing a sermon? After reading the text, the preacher probably sits and ruminates at least four hours looking for the right illustration, story, or anecdote.

The first step in sermon writing is to throw your thoughts at the canvas. Look at it. Rework it. Maybe even trash it and start over. Thinking about the text, whether from the Old Testament, one of the Epistles, or the Gospels, the preacher examines the text and divides it into Law and Gospel. The Goal of every sermon is to give the hearers Jesus. Let them see Jesus. This is why they came to Church (hopefully).

Back to the manuscript. Does every pastor write one? No. There are a few methods of preparing to preach (maybe I’ll tackle that subject in the future).

  • Length. A lot of preachers know how long the sermon will be just by the number of words they write. If they forget, there may be a “father time” sentry in the pews playing time keeper to remind him.


  • Readability. This is an indicator that let’s the preacher know what the grade level his sermon is written for. I personally learned that the sermon should be kept to a 3rd or 4th grade level.


  • Illustrations. I personally don’t like them and rarely use them. If the preacher thinks he needs this element, that’s fine. Illustrations are not application. Application is the way the preacher directs Jesus and the Word into the lives of the hearers.
  • Style. Fire & Brimstone. Soft. In your face. Friendly. Conversational. Storytelling. There are all kinds of styles. – Remember, style is not why you go to Church. You go to see Jesus.

Worshippers raise their hands during worship service at the Pure Fire Miracle Church in Accra, Ghana


  • You vs. We. A great deal of discussion takes place about this element. Does the preacher use the “WE” to include himself in the audience of the sermon? Does he preach “YOU” (although he is still included) to drive home the “FOR YOU” proclamation of salvation in Christ Jesus? I personally use the “YOU” element in my sermons.
  • Outlines. Should the preacher provide an outline to the hearers to take notes on during the preaching of the Word? Are outlines a distracting element from hearing the Word? Are outlines a temptation provided to the hearers from the preaching office? As of this writing, I’ve provided outlines two weeks in a row. The feedback is limited. The hearers who are enjoying them do not consider them a distraction but a good review for the week during their meditation. The jury is still out on this element.

The pastor spends his week wrestling with the text and all of Scripture to prepare for the preaching of the Word on Sunday morning. Does he stop to consider the hearers during his preparations?

Will they know what justification means? Sanctification? Atonement? Alien righteousness? What if the preacher referred to Judas Iscariot as an osculator? Would the hearers understand? (By the way, an osculator is one who kisses).

Going back to readability, the preacher may follow the advice given him to keep between the 3rd and 4th grade level. How would the congregation feel? Stupid? On target understanding the sermon? In between the two measures? Offended? Talked down to?

Does the preacher take into consideration whether or not the congregation even knows how to listen to a sermon? How to listen to the words, the art of his craft, and hear the Law and Gospel as it is pumped into their ears? Is it good for the preacher to point out that, “this is the Law!” or “this is the sweet Gospel” during the preaching to ensure the hearers grab it? I don’t think so.

So, do the hearers hear what the preacher is preaching? Whether they get everything he is saying or not, they are still hearing Jesus preach. They are hearing that their sins are forgiven; they have life and salvation in Jesus Name.

They may not understand all the BIG theological words (the pastor can work on that later or even as he is preaching). Hearers: If you don’t understand something in the sermon, go ask the pastor. In the end, the hearers are gathered by the Holy Spirit into the sheep pen to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and the Holy Gospel.

May our eternal Father continue to bless the under-shepherds and the hearers until His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, returns on Judgment Day.

Always under the cross,

+ Pastor Wurst


“Do You Hear What I Hear?” — 5 Comments

  1. Dear Pastor,

    You asked me what I longed for and expected in a sermon. It is not easy for me to respond. My first reaction to your request is the feeling that it doesn’t really make much difference what I want in a sermon. What I want isn’t always what I need.

    After the initial surprise at the query, I have pondered your question for quite some time. “Longing” is an appropriate way to describe my heart on most Sunday mornings. As you know, my husband and I have three children who have varying attention spans and levels of energy. Both of us have full-time vocations, and our lives are filled with activities, grandparents, school, housework, finances, yard work, and a host of other demands. By Saturday night I am tired and hungry for the spiritual food that is offered on Sunday.

    When I come into church to worship, I believe that I am crossing over from this life into the portals of heaven. I not only believe, but I also expect to experience that part of the liturgy that describes our worship as “a foretaste of the things to come.” Personally, the entire service provides a sanctuary from the world, including my own troubles and trials, the evil that is rampant, and the blaring news accounts of wars, murders, and other disasters. Of these I am well aware, too aware; the sin in my life and in this world are a yoke around me. You needn’t take time to recount the news of the week for me.

    Pastor, I need your help in sorting out my sin and guilt in order to see and know the grace of the Gospel and how that applies to me. At the same time, it must be personally applied for each individual who is listening to your sermon. I know how daunting that must be for you; however, this is what I long for and expect.

    I am not interested in a sermon that includes a list of “how-to’s.” There always seems to be a new book, an article, or a TV talk show guest who offers a particular version of self-help exercises to improve my life. I can’t keep it all straight, and after 37 years of living with myself, I know that I cannot by my own reason or strength fix that which is wrong with me. Please don’t even try to suggest that I can.

    Each week when I come to church with my family, I am eager to step out of my life, my schedule, and the secular calendar of events. I want your preaching to follow the church year and the appointed lessons for the day. The rhythm of the church year and the worship and preaching that accompany it help me face all the unknowns and changes of daily life. There is a certain comfort for me each week to know what to expect from the service and from you. No surprises, no theatrics, simply firm and clear preaching from the Word of God. What a respite this is for me from this world!

    In the liturgy we sing of the “angels and archangels” and “all the company of heaven”; in the Te Deum we sing of the “noble army of martyrs and the goodly fellowship of the prophets.” Through your preaching help me to connect with the whole company of heaven. Allow your sermon to lift me out of my self-centered world of the present and join me with the whole Christian church. As the writer to the Hebrews says, they “are a great cloud of witnesses.” It is good for me to be reminded that my place in life is not so unique, that others have been here before me, and that the same Lord who rescued them is present now to rescue me from sin and death.

    Pastor, I am Lutheran for a reason. I have studied the Confessions, and as a commissioned church worker in our synod I have unconditionally subscribed to our Lutheran Confessions. Preach like a Lutheran—make it obvious. Tell me again and again about my Baptism, the incarnation, justification, grace alone. Prepare me to receive the body and blood of our Lord and the life that it offers.

    For the sake of my elderly parents and my young children, use our Lutheran language. We have a vocabulary and a way of saying things that is uniquely ours. I have visited enough other churches to really appreciate the way a Lutheran speaks about God. I know this language, as do my parents, because it was always spoken in the Lutheran churches where we worshiped. It is truly ingrained in me. I want this for my children.

    Pastor, as I read what I have written to you, I am aware still again that I should presume to tell you what to preach. But that is the beauty of it. Each week you stand in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ and offer to me forgiveness, hope, and strength to live as a child of God. Also, each week as you sit down to write your sermon, you don’t have to pull from within yourself. You are an instrument of God’s mercy. What a comfort that must be to you!

    “What I Expect in a Sermon”
    Deaconess Pamela J. Nielsen
    Concordia Pulpit Resources
    Volume 12, Part 3
    Holy Trinity–Pentecost 15, May 26, 2002–September 1, 2002 Series A

  2. @“LC-MS Quotes” #1
    Thanks LC-MS quotes. I really appreciate paragraphs eight and nine. Deaconess Nielsen expresses it so well. I, too, am a Lutheran for a reason. We have God’s Holy Word, the Confessions, the Sacraments. I’m a Lutheran without apology or compromise. Please preach the law in all its’ severity and the gospel in all its’ sweetness and catechize, catechize, and catechize some more. We are life long learners, we Lutherans.

  3. “I didn’t get much from that sermon.”

    A good friend made that comment recently when I asked her what she thought of my preaching that day. She explained that she wants a sermon to offer practical help for her Christian living. That particular sermon didn’t meet her “bottom line.” It failed to give her a list of guidelines for her daily life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. That’s what she wanted from a preacher. I agreed, at least partly. There may have been a Law/Gospel issue at play here. She may have been looking for a list of things to do and not to do to make her become a better Christian, rather than desiring the sweet word of forgiveness through Jesus Christ—the Good News which carries within itself the power to transform lives.

    I then shared with her that not every sermon is designed to include “five steps to enrich your praying” (as an example). Why? Sermons are based on a variety of Bible texts, and when they are true to their texts, a variety of “bottom lines” will result. These may include the following:

    Strengthening faith. Some texts simply proclaim the facts of faith. These focus on what or why we believe in God and in Jesus as our Savior. These Bible verses may not seem to have a practical application, but they are the basis for the day-to-day life of discipleship.

    Practical teaching. Other texts urge us to put our faith into practice, for example, in the command to “love one another.” A sermon about this fruit of faith could explore practical ways of loving our neighbor.

    Using a take-away. A few texts suggest a “take-away,” some physical object that provides help or symbolizes a goal for Christian living. For instance, a sermon I once preached focused on what it means to follow in Jesus’ steps. Instead of providing a sermon study guide, a bookmark with the anonymous poem “Footprints” was placed in the bulletin.

    Posing a challenge. Many Bible texts do not provide specifics about how to put faith into practice as a Christian. Sometimes a preacher can offer ideas about how we answer “What does this mean to me?” and “What am I going to do about it?” But at other times, it is appropriate to provide a broad range of possibilities, then encourage worshipers to determine individually how best to put this scriptural truth into practice in their lives.

    Very few persons always get something “practical” from the sermon every weekend. But as we understand the variety of approaches that may be used, we still can benefit as we seek the preacher’s help in applying God’s written Word to our faith and lives.

    A Pastor Writes to His Congregation: A Sermon’s “Bottom Line”
    Rev. Henry A. Simon, pastor, Signal Hill Lutheran Church, Belleville, Illinois
    Concordia Pulpit Resources
    Volume 13, Part 2
    March 9, 2003–June 8, 2003

  4. As a preacher this, to me, sounds like the author of this article struggles with the difference between preaching about Christ and preaching Christ. Is the sermon meant to be proclamation or explanation? (See Forde’s “The Preached God”) As pastors it is our job to communicate clearly in words our people can understand. Don’t talk about atonement or justification; take your people on a journey of words that ends with the certainty that they are right with God. Big words are often confusing short-cuts. In place of the word ‘justification’ you could have an entire paragraph that leads people to understand the fact that they can be confident before their creator and judge. Your sermon isn’t meant to tell people ‘that’ their sins are forgiven. Your sermon should work forgiveness in the heart of the hearer.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. It appears to me that we struggle with the transformation of society (it’s more advanced towards European secularism in Canada than it has in the states, as far as I can tell), and how to preach given our parishioners’ immersion in this secular world.

    I do not believe that we should discard the terminology that Lutherans use. I affirm that it should be taught and used. However, we use them the way the confessions meant for them to be used. Given the landscape, we should by no means assume that people are hearing those words in their intended sense. Rather, we should verify that they are hearing what we think they are hearing. If they do not have the vocabulary, we need to take the time to build it for them, starting with the language of the day. Are we doing this? Am I doing this sufficiently, for that matter?

    In other words, every congregation needs a preacher who will “translate the Bible anew” for them for their world, their time and place.

    Now I read Kirchenpostille sermons (in the St. Louis edition too, because for me that’s the best compromise of closeness to source and readability) because of my unusual situation. Look at how Dr. Luther and his companions make use of the opportunity to make language work, and not carry on like some kind of madman shouting at a street corner.

    Clearly the preaching in the Kirchenpostille has had a profound impact in its time. Those sermons are making sense to their hearers, because he is speaking in a space their hearers already occupy. Perhaps we should be spending just as much time observing and studying our parishioner’s world as we do the world of the bible, and learn how to build a bridge between the two, so that when we preach “Law and Gospel”, their meaning has remained intact by the time the hearer hears it?

    Just throwing it out there: Got any really good sources that explain how this might be done? I’m thinking, for example, of the methods used by people at LBT when they come up with a new testament in a language that’s never been done before. But I understand that not everybody likes all the judgement calls that have been made. However, I contend some sort of process is still necessary, nonetheless, and even within our own parishioner’s environment we shouldn’t simply assume we’re speaking the same language as our hearers.

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