1. Introduction

Preaching stands in the same relationship to lecturing as does theology to the philosophy of religion; To undertake the latter, you simply have to know about the material in the way that you would know about, say, history or literary criticism (to cite two subjects not a million miles away from exegesis) but with theology and preaching the study is undertaken with belief as a necessary precondition; study informs faith and, without the Holy Spirit, theology and preaching are diminished into the philosophy of religion and lecturing.

Leaving aside sermons with doctrine or ethics as their starting points, most sermons (addresses, or homilies) in church begin with a discussion of scripture. In our Sunday Lectionary, we usually hear a reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, a Gospel, a Psalm, and a Collect which may or may not summarise the themes in the other four.

In an Anglican Church of the Catholic tradition, the Gospel is almost always foremost in the homily, either taken on its own or in conjunction with the Old Testament or the New Testament reading (rarely both).

2. Purpose

The main purposes of the sermon are to explain:

  1. What texts meant to their authors and contemporaneous listeners (most were not readers)
  2. How texts relate to each other (if applicable)
  3. What the texts mean today.

3. Exegesis

There is a school of preaching which insists that any exegesis should be framed by personal experience which "grabs" the listener at the beginning and leaves the listener with a snappy 'pay-off' but this runs the danger of making the preacher too prominent at the expense of God. Personal experience and humour should be deployed as appropriate but the key elements in the exegesis are:

  1. Textual analysis - say what the text actually means in the way you would if you were parsing the sentences and describing the meaning of difficult words
  2. Explain what this 'plain' meaning would have conveyed to the listener, remembering that what the author meant may be much more complex than what the listener understands, which is precisely why we preach
  3. Explain what the author meant by his text
  4. Explain what the text means today, first in its literal sense, and then in its theological sense, noting that ideas change their meaning through time; and that values change through time
  5. Draw any theological conclusions
  6. Say how the conclusions should affect our Christian lives today.

4. Methodology

The methodology will vary but the following steps might be helpful:

  1. Identity themes in the Gospel
  2. Rank the themes in the Gospel
  3. If the Gospel is part of sequential readings on successive Sundays, look at the previous and subsequent week's Gospel
  4. Think of how the major themes relate to current events or concerns
  5. Look at the other readings to see if they share any of the common themes you have identified in the Gospel
  6. Unless you are good at organic development, work backwards by identifying your main, concluding point and then assemble the material to support it
  7. Design an opening that asks the question you are going to answer or an describe a current incident which implicitly asks the question.

5. Important tips

  1. Remember that sermons are said not read and so use sentences as simple as your meaning allows and do not be frightened of the kind of rhetoric. particularly repetition, that would be inappropriate in a written work.
  2. Establish the  generally accepted  meaning of texts before venturing on your own, evidence-based, departure from the norm
  3. Give due weight to those with whom you disagree
  4. Be careful that the sermon is about the text, not one of your hobby-horses
  5. Don't get tense or labour the meaning; it should emerge clearly if you are patient. If not, do more praying and reading.
  6. Finally, remember that you are studying and speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit.

KC IV/11

Suggested process for study groups:

Session 1.

  1. Split yourselves into three groups, hopefully with at least three people
  2. Identify the roles of:
    • Scribe
    • Preacher
    • Assessor.
    If there are fewer than three, one person will have to undertake two roles, if more than three, you are lucky!
  3. Read your given passages quietly to yourselves
  4. Ensure that you share a common understanding of the Gospel and, if necessary, the other texts. If not, seek a common understanding or note differences to form part of the sermon
  5. Note down in words or short phrases the main themes of
      • The Gospel
      • The other readings
  6. Agree a main point and any other subsidiary points you want to include
  7. Agree how the text(s) relates to our lives today and suggest contemporary events or concerns too which it relates.
  8. Agree how you are going to proceed between sessions to enable your preacher to be ready for the next session.

Session 2.

  1. Draw lots for the order of preaching
  2. Each sermon and subsequent discussion is allocated 30 minutes
  3. Listen carefully to each sermon
  4. Give precedence in the discussion to the three assessors, followed by a general discussion
  5. The discussion should focus on the good points - what you got out of it - and what was missing.
  6. Remember that the purpose is for mutual support.


Year A

  1. Proper 5
  2. Proper 6
  3. Proper 7