The Long and the Short
From that time, Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” – Matthew 4:17 (NRSV)
Pontificating on sermon length, one of my seminary professors made the case for brevity: “If you can’t say it in ten minutes. You won’t say it in twenty.”
Jesus might not be so generous. His first sermon was nine words short: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”
No one complained. No one recommended he draw it out with a few illustrations and daily life applications. It was self-explanatory and impossible to forget: “Get your [expletive] together because all heaven is breaking loose!”
His next sermon, the one on the mount, was much longer. However, that sermon was a series of similarly punchy, arresting sermonettes, like a long string of stunning pearls.
A few years ago, I was asked to summarize the Christian faith in six words. I proposed this: “Jesus is Lord. Not me. Hallelujah!”I might get away with preaching that, and only that, once. Any more often and people would think I’m slacking, and jump to some other church livestream. A little offering might follow a little sermon.
Jesus was free of such small-minded, worldly concerns. He preached with precision and passion without counting the cost. He preached like a person who knows his time is short.
Jesus, what do you think of the meme summarizing the whole Bible as: “Don’t be an a**hole”? Because you relish getting to the heart of things quickly, I doubt you would disagree. Amen?
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first two books, The Spinner Prince and The Four Guardians are available now.