...The sermon became the centerpiece of Protestant worship, and it remains so in many contexts. At the same time, few Protestants retain Luther’s theology of preaching. Luther would have little stomach for the entrepreneurial world of American Christianity, in which individuals without any ecclesiastical ties or theological training found new churches. Nor would Luther — despite his own translation of the Bible and his own devotional and academic study of the scriptures — agree that it is most important for people to study the scriptures on their own or in small-group Bible studies. They need to hear the Word proclaimed and expounded upon, and not just a sentence or two, as is increasingly common. There is, moreover, an enormous gulf between Luther’s world and ours, and perhaps today Luther would open a coffee-house ministry or, more likely, a tavern. Today, churches try harder to “reach people where they are.”
Luther sympathized with every generation’s complaints about sermons, that they are too long, too boring, and not relevant. He noted the problem of snoring during church, and he said that one of a minister’s most important qualification was “that he know when to stop.” Indeed, the belief that human beings could step up to the pulpit and serve as the mouthpieces for the eternal Word of God is, humanly speaking, rather foolish. Most people in the pews (or theater seats) recognize that basic foolishness as they praise or criticize a sermon on the basis of its entertainment, humor, or edification. In his final sermon, Luther preached that God “did not make his gospel known to the wise and understanding, but to infants and children.” He closed with a call to “shut our eyes altogether, and cling only to Christ’s Word and come to him.”
Protestants do not necessarily need better preachers or a dethronement of the sermon from its place at the center of their worship services. Instead, we need a Lutheran expectation that God’s Word will manifest itself through the “fleeting breath” of human beings and that through sacraments and sermon, the Word of God will make clear to us the promises of the gospel.