Somerset Maugham wrote a comment in 1948 concerning Emily Bronte’s ‘persona’ as the author of Wuthering Heights, which could apply just as well to the ‘art’ of preaching a sermon. This is what Maugham wrote:

“Is it strange that [Emily Bronte] should have put herself into the two chief characters of her book? Not at all. We are none of us all of a piece; more than one person dwells within us, often in uneasy companionship with his fellows; and the peculiarity of the writer of fiction is that he has the power to objectify the diverse person of which he is compounded into individual characters: his misfortune is that he cannot bring to life characters, however necessary to his story they may be, in which there is no part of himself.”  (Page 117, Great Novelists and their Novels)

All you need to do is substitute the word “preacher’ for Maugham’s word “writer” and you have an interesting thought. The preacher, like the writer, cannot “bring to life” the sermon — its narrative, illustrations, and dynamic point — unless the preacher is part of the action. The preacher himself or herself has to be the object — the dramatis persona — of the Word of God, in order for the hearer to see himself also as the object of that Word.

The main failing of sermons is that the preacher is not invested in them personally enough. Likewise, the main memorable thing from a sermon which lasts, is that the hearer is able to say to herself/himself: “The preacher was speaking to me.” That preacher’s being the object of his text made me into the object of his words. His words, God willing, were God’s Word.

Maugham was one of those inspired ‘channels’, from time to time, through which came widely applicable insight.

To get your hands on the recent Mockingbird Preaching Seminar, “Breaking The Fourth Wall,” available on a donate-what-you-can basis, go here.