The Purpose of Sermons

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matthew 2:12

Dear People of St. David’s,

One of the wonderful things about being retired associate clergy is the opportunity to hear my colleagues preach. On Sunday, January 7, we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany with chalking the door, and wise-guy teenagers dressed up like sages of old, and for the first time in a long time, a “children’s sermon.” The preacher was my colleague, the Rev. Sarah Dunn, and if you weren’t there for it, you can watch it here. I want to let you in on a little preacher’s secret: there is no such thing as a children’s sermon. If a sermon does what it is supposed to do, it explains a little bit of Holy Scripture in a way that anyone in the room (or watching on the livestream or reading it later) can use to help them get closer to God.

I sat behind Sarah as she preached, and I could see the faces of several of the children who were gathered around her. She began by addressing them exclusively, asking questions and engaging their interest. I could also see the faces of the adults in the congregation. It was clear that most of us in the room were not witnessing a “children’s sermon,” we were participating in a sermon together.

We learned about stars, talked about gifts, and just when we thought the whole story had been explicated, Sarah asked if we had noticed anything else. I saw that I was not the only one in the room who mouthed the last phrase of the Gospel lesson: they left…by another road.

One of the great joys of retiring back to the Delaware Valley has been re-establishing relationships. I am so grateful the therapist I saw before I moved to Massachusetts agreed to take me back into her practice, as though a dozen years had not intervened. Back in 2009, I knew all the efficient ways to get from my home in Radnor to her office in Broomall and got it down to just under 30 minutes. That’s a perfect amount of time to think about the things going on in my world that could benefit from a clear and balanced perspective to be ready for my appointment.  Since moving back, I have discovered that it is more like 45 minutes from my new home in West Chester—and that the timing is a little less predictable.

On Monday, I left a little late and a lot distracted for my regular appointment. I then realized I had turned the wrong way out of my development and was now going in a direction I thought would add an extra 15 minutes to my trip. Still swiftly rolling along, I decided to “go by another road.” If I was late, I would be late, but it seemed safer to keep going than to screech to a halt and turn around.

Using voice commands to set the GPS on my phone, I was amazed to discover that by following this new route, I would get to my therapist in 20 minutes less time than if I had gone my usual way. I would be on time!

The wise ones were warned in a dream not to take the road they knew, so they figured out another way. All these millennia later, we celebrate their lengthy, mysterious trip when the light of God shown on all of humankind.

What happened to me on Monday is a tiny little thing. I didn’t panic, I just figured I would go by another road to honor this decades-long relationship that has been so helpful to me. I was rewarded by finding a more efficient route and spent my drive thanking God for the new perspectives that can be gained by taking another road.


The Rev. Nancy Webb Stroud
Priest Associate