What is a Sermon?
A sermon is a religious address delivered to the congregation at a service of worship. Examples are found in several religions, but chiefly in Judaism and Christianity. Many of the recorded addresses of the Old Testament prophets were sermons. In the New Testament, Jesus' teaching was frequently addressed to congregations in the synagogue, for example, Luke 4:16-30. Several sermons of Peter and of Paul are also reported in the Acts of the Apostles, for example, chapters 2:14-36, 13:16-43.
Although philosophers lectured in their schools and the Stoic-Cynic street preachers delivered diatribes (exhortations to moral living), their influence on the early church did not compare with the example of the Jewish synagogue. In both church and synagogue the method was usually the same, involving an exposition of Holy Scripture ending with an exhortation and a prayer. The Jewish prayer was a kaddish, one of the oldest elements in the synagogue liturgy.
Many of the Christian Church Fathers have left collections of sermons, notably John Chrysostom in the East and Augustine in the West. Their sermons were read and copied for hundreds of years. In the West Augustine's sermons were frequently adapted to meet the needs of less well-educated congregations. In the Middle Ages there were "preaching friars" who often spoke out-of-doors, as at the preaching crosses in markets and villages. With the Reformation in the 16th century, even more stress was laid upon preaching, and the typical Protestant service was and still is chiefly centered in the sermon. In the Roman Catholic Church an increased emphasis has been placed on the sermon since the Second Vatican Council.
Although more emphasis is now being laid upon liturgical rites in all churches, the place of the sermon is still recognized, and will probably continue to be. Christianity, like Judaism and even Islam, is a religion of a book that needs to be explained, interpreted, and applied.