Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

On keeping it simple

One of my great friends and mentors when I was a young pastor was the Rev. Elward (yes, Elward) O. “Ozzie” Hollman, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Windsor, Conn. Ozzie respected the high church liturgical tradition of the Episcopal Church, but led the liturgy in a very down-to-earth way, which was Ozzie’s style in all things. He had a great gift for keeping things simple and cutting through to the core.

Ozzie was famous at Grace for one of his Easter sermons. He stood up in the pulpit and said “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.” And sat back down again. End of sermon. He always thought of it as his best Easter sermon.

Easter comes, Christmas comes, and preachers knock themselves out to produce masterful sermons that will move the masses and bring many to faith. There will be so many people in church that day, after all. The famous Christmas and Easter Christians. Family from out of town.  Maybe even a few seekers who have come out of curiosity, the doors of their spirits slightly ajar for an hour. Preachers think it is up to them to deliver the goods and win souls like Peter did on Pentecost. I do not say that in a judgmental way. I spent many, many years doing that very thing.

But the more years I preached, the simpler my sermons got, especially on occasions like Easter and Christmas. Preaching on Easter started to seem like explaining a joke. Either you get it or you don’t, and if you don’t all of the explaining in the world isn’t going to leave you rolling on the floor and holding your sides. We might dress it up a bit, but on Easter there really isn’t much more that needs saying than “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.” That pretty well wraps it up.

So as you work on your “big sermons” this month, take the Easter Gospel very seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. The Holy Spirit is the real communicator in this deal, not you. Try not to get in the way. And remember to tell them that “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.”

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