An Internet search seems to confirm that the late Baptist minister Clinton Locy holds the world’s record for the longest sermon ever preached.
In forty-eight hours and eighteen minutes Pastor Locy, back in February 1955, reportedly preached on every book in the Bible, tossing in as well some remarks on the nuclear age. I can find no record of the actual sermon text itself but the exertion did get him mentioned in Time magazine.
Locy became a preacher after he first was invited to church by a Baptist pastor. The story goes that from the sermon he heard he decided he could do better--probably a sentiment felt by many pastors while hearing someone else preach.
I had always thought the longest sermon record was set in 2001 when Fr. Christopher Sterry, Anglican vicar of Whalley Parish in Lancashire, England, entered the pulpit and preached for twenty-eight hours and forty-five minutes. He thereby earned seven thousand dollars in proceeds for a church fund-raiser that went, in part, to pay some of his salary that year. Sterry began on June 29 and continued on until early the next day, taking a fifteen-minute break every eight hours.
There was to be an attempt to surpass that record this past July by a Sussex, England, Unitarian minister, James Barry. Unfortunately, I can’t find any follow-up as to whether or not he outmatched Fr. Sterry. As Barry’s topic was to have been “The History of the Corruption of Christianity,” I’m inclined to believe he couldn’t get enough material together.
The Peter Rahme Ministries in South Africa, 1985, managed a record of one hundred forty-four hours, but that was a kind of tag-team thing that involved twelve ministers, each preaching two-hour stints over six days and nights. It is said the preaching saved one young man from suicide by jumping off a fourteen-story building. Funny, I would have thought one hundred forty-four hours listening to back-to-back sermons might have produced the opposite effect, but, you know, whatever works.
I don’t like stunt sermons; can you tell? Actually, there are numerous things I do not like about many sermons. I do not like cutesy stories cribbed from the internet, meandering illustrations, quotations from authorities nobody will remember, and I am especially distressed when I find myself resorting to them.
Every pastor has a different approach to preaching. Some use three points and a summary. I’ve done that too, but usually I try to make the same point three different ways. Not always with success, but that is my goal.
I try to look at every gospel reading as an O. Henry story, with a surprise ending, a hook; that twist of plot that catches your breath hearing the Good News. I look for it, and I try to say it in as few words as possible. It takes very few words, I think, to say the Word.
So I really have no appreciation for long sermons, stunts or not. Twenty minutes? Too long. I aim for about twelve minutes, tops. In fact, anything much over seven minutes and people get itchy for the accustomed commercial break television has taught us to expect.
But a good sermon, whether twelve minutes or seven, should tell us something about the Bible we didn’t know before, something about Christ we had not suspected, something about us and our need for Christ above all other needs that we had not known.
It should show us how we were lost and did not even know it until we were found. It should tell us how we were ransomed from “sin, death, and the devil” long before we even knew we were hostages. It should tell us of a divine love that sweeps away hatred, of a solace that mitigates grief, of a sanctuary from fear.
A good sermon should respond to a call we have but dimly heard yet are now eager to answer.
I haven’t found anything about the world’s record for the shortest sermon. But there is the story from tradition reported by St. Jerome of St. John to whom the fourth gospel is attributed.
By the time he was old, frail, infirm, and had to be carried into the sanctuary John was down to the one same sermon, repeated Sunday to Sunday until he reached his death bed.
His sermon was: “Little children, love one another.”
It’s a timely sermon for any congregation, anywhere, and it hardly takes ninety-three hours to say it. But I suspect it requires a lifetime to do it, maybe longer.
Russell E. Saltzman is dean of the Great Plains Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church, an online homilist for the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary, and author of The Pastor’s Page and Other Small Essays. His previous On the Square articles can be found here.
Peter Rahme Ministries
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