Awkward Theological Moments: The Difference Between a Speech And a Sermon

One time after guest preaching at a Friday night service, someone sauntered up, shook my hand with both of his, and said with all sincerity, “That was a great speech.” On some level I knew he was a baby Christian, but on a deeper level I knew I had failed my task.

When we teach or preach or listen to a sermon, it is absolutely difficult not to view it as a performance or pep rally. At conferences we “grade” the speaker like an Amazon rating and consider it a badge of doctrinal authority if we download certain podcasts. People also naturally float towards charisma, adrenaline, and spiritual highs. The funny speaker is seen as the true speaker. And while humor, passion, and personality can be used to draw people in, ultimately it must be towards Jesus alone. A speech speaks on itself; a sermon points to Him.

I understand this is hard to sort out, particularly in a consumerist culture that treats even the church like winetasting. It’s a struggle for both pastors and churchgoers to draw that line. So here are three major differences between a sermon and a speech to give us discernment for both preachers and the congregation.

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Quote: Interrupts

It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between grace and karma.
[Karma says] what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called grace to upend all that ‘as you sow, so you will reap’ stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.
It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

— Bono from U2