The sermon occupies an important place in the worship of the Christian congregation. Most people would not consider the Sunday service to be complete without a sermon. In various periods of history and in various places, the importance of the sermon has been raised or lowered to some degree. It is rightly given prominence within the liturgy, but it should not exist without the liturgy to support and shape it. The sermon is grounded in the words of the prophets of the Old Testament, the Words of Jesus as recorded by the evangelists, the epistles of Paul and Peter, and especially Peter’s sermon on Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2.
Typically, the sermon is based on one of the readings appointed for the day. It fits in with the general theme of the day and is supported by the Introit, the Collect of the Day, and the hymns. Occasionally, the pastor will choose a text or a theme which varies from the appointed readings, as is his prerogative. Some pastors choose to preach a sermon series for a few consecutive Sundays. Many pastors prefer to let the appointed readings guide their preaching. In that way, they do not preach too much on certain pet topics, but preach the whole Word of God as it is presented and shaped by the lectionary.
The sermon is the place in the service for the pastor to expound on the mysteries of God. In the rest of the service, pastor and congregation together generally follow a set order. When using the historic liturgy (from one of the hymnals), they are speaking the liturgy with other believers in other places and other times. The sermon becomes directed to a particular group of people gathered in a particular place at a particular time. The pastor does not preach to an unknown group, but to those whom he has come to know. For that reason, the sermon is tailored to those who will hear it.
In the sermon, the pastor has the responsibility to proclaim the Word of God, not any particular personal or political agenda. The pulpit is no soapbox to force on others the preacher’s own ideas. Rather, the pastor begins preparing his sermon with the Word of God firmly in his mind. It is his responsibility to proclaim to those who hear both Law and Gospel. He proclaims Law when he reminds the hearers of their sin and their desperate situation. He proclaims Gospel when he conveys to them the forgiveness of their sins by the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Pastors abuse their positions when they fail to proclaim either part: when they simply use the sermon as an excuse for a tirade or when they ignore the plight of their sinful hearers.
Many pastors take the opportunity during the end of the sermon hymn to pray prior to entering the pulpit. Often, that prayer is that God would use the words of the pastor to convey His Word, to strengthen faith in those who hear it. One pastor has said, “If you do not feel nervous getting into the pulpit, perhaps you should not.” That said, the sermon is a wonderful opportunity to share the Gospel with the children of God.