April 18 2021


A sermon or a homily is an attempt to describe in part some of the spiritual experience of living a human life.  Ministers write about the never ending quest, not only of preachers, but of poets and authors, to discover elegant metaphors and similes to convey some of these life ideas. One of the most enduring metaphors commonly employed by preachers and others is that of life being a journey.

Originally I suppose people saw a pretty direct correlation between our spiritual pilgrimage through life, and the journey we make through our days and months and years. On that single level, the figure of speech works reasonably well, and it is reassuring to be reminded that what matters is the quality of the journey and not the arriving.

The popularity of metaphors like this has probably grown in recent years because, along with the rest of the 21st Century, we have become less comfortable with the idea of just standing still, of not apparently making any progress. John Milton’s line “They also serve who stand and wait,” does not speak to a 21st Century congregation.

We see ourselves as wayfarers, fellow travellers, and the religious writings are our maps, and our religious leaders are our guides.

Chapels and churches and places of worship are never seen these days as places to settle down in. They are places of rest, of over-night shelter, from which we are encouraged to move on.

“Where does the road lead?” asked the poet Edwin Muir, and he replied to his own question, “The road leads on.”

For preachers the popularity of the idea of life as a journey, is too great to be ignored. The figure of speech is used over and over again because it is so meaningful. The purpose of homilies is, as we have seen, an attempt to describe in part the spiritual experience of living a human life.

One thinks again of Robert Frost’s most famous poem,

“I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

And indeed, throughout all literature, from our closer contemporaries such as Dylan Thomas:

My birthday began with the water birds
And the birds of the winged trees,
And I arose in rainy Autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.

And Laurie Lee, “As I walked out one mid-summer morning,” right back to Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote his great Canterbury Tales in the form of a pilgrimage travelled by a wonderful assortment of human characters, and we remember too John Bunyan and his Christian Pilgrim.

With all of these the journey has been a pre-figurement of our spiritual growth, development and experience. And in the words of Robert Frost again, we all

“have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

I have often wondered, if the language we employ is so appropriate, if the metaphor of the journey is so true, why ultimately are our sermons and homilies so forgettable? Ministers spend hours writing them and our poor congregations spend hours sitting through them.

Well, have you ever tried walking backwards? It is not easy to do and can be hazardous. Have you ever tried walking backwards, and working out the way to go from the things you have just passed? Part of the purpose of sermons is to help prepare us for the next part of our journey, looking forwards not behind.

It is not essential that we struggle to try to remember them.

Sermons, like our best memories, if they are any good, will stay with us anyway.

Thank you for listening, and (in the language of the Journey) fare thee well. Amen.


Sunday Service homilies from the Minister during coronavirus period