Could you not keep awake one hour

When sermons are only 40 minutes

“Our sermons only go for 40 to 50 minutes” said the comment on your.sydneyanglicans.net’s forum.

The word ‘only’ hit me like a hammer. It might have crept in there by mistake, like the word ‘just’ creeps into prayer, but the thought that a sermon was ‘only’ 40 minutes long, that someone might be ashamed of 40 minutes because it might sound skimpy makes this pewsitter smile wryly.

Dare I say it’s a case of “Never mind the quality, feel the length”?

The arrival of downloadable sermons on the internet means that you can tell how long people are preaching without acting like a nominator and spying on another church. (A nominator is a church representative on a committee seeking a minister for a church. They try before they buy.)

And the length of some of the sermons is truly frightening. To this pewsitter anyway.

In seach of enlightenment I walked across the lounge room reading aloud some stuff that appears to have communicated well in the past.

“Four score and seven years ago…” Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, admittedly a masterpiece of condensed prose took 1 minute 45 seconds to read.

“Men of Israel and you Gentiles listen to me!”: Paul’s sermon in Pisidian Antioch from Acts 13 cantered to a finish in 3 minutes 10 seconds.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit”: Jesus’ sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 took this pewsitter 12 minutes and 30 seconds to read to the kitchen clock.

I know that Paul and Jesus’ sermons were not taken down by a bloke called Hansard. The literary conventions of the time may not guarantee a full version.

The point is, though, that a lot of powerful stuff got across in what is recorded.

Just how long a sermon needs to be is debatable. I suspect sometimes it is a bit like selling stuff on eBay. You can charge as much as the market will bear. You can preach as long as the congregation will bear.

The issue is then ‘which congregation’? Forty minutes will seem reasonable to a group used to it, perhaps people who got into the habit of listening that long at university. Perhaps if we were swept up by the Spirit, three hours would seem too short.

But what about people who for want of practice, because of age or simply because God made them differently, can’t listen that long? The special needs kids in my Scripture class can’t take in more than a few words.

That’s an extreme case, to be sure. But perhaps 50 minutes is the other extreme.

Surely this is one issue where we can be gentle with each other, as pewsitters or preachers. The slight whiff of competitiveness that occurs on the internet about sermon length should be allowed to disperse. 

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