The art of conversation

>The words ‘sermon’ and ‘homily’ seem to get used interchangeably. I always thought that homilies get preached in Catholic churches or are sermons which aren’t long enough to be sermons. I have also always been rather wary of the power relationship between preacher and hearer and its patronising nature.

Timothy Radcliffe reminded me this morning (in ‘Why go to Church’) that the word ‘homily’ comes from a Greek word ‘homilein’ which means ‘to converse’. Aha! Inclusive language. Everyone converses, but not everyone preaches sermons (you have to be qualified for that!). “Conversation is surely the foundation of any society” writes Radcliffe. “It is by talking together that we overcome misunderstandings, receive and offer forgiveness, grow in sympathy and mutual understanding, take pleasure in each other’s company, and develop a shared language and memories.”

What if what we preach is ‘conversation’? It means ‘listening’ and ‘appreciation’ – by all parties. If conversation is something all of us do, then the Sunday homily should be enabling “the real preaching, the community’s conversations” so that Christian faith becomes embedded in the everyday conversation of our communities, the Word thereby becoming flesh and living among us.

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