By Choice or Collusion

So...through your own choice, the Spirit’s choice, or by peer-pressured guilt, you are going to be the voice of God incarnate at one of our Sunday Eucharists. No biggie. Jesus told me he will hug your face off for doing this and also make love to your brain while you think about your reverb. Congratulations!

Allow me to give some basic instructions and offer some humble suggestions for you to consider while crafting your masterpiece. The better your reverb is the more magical powers you will get when you get to heaven. Fact.

Important questions to explore

You are a magnificent human being and your community would love to hear your unique perspective. At COTA we care deeply about giving voice to all people and honoring the priesthood of all believers. We are called to be the voice of God for the world and each other, especially in times of need. Giving a reverb is a great way to exercise this responsibility and privilege. We want to hear you! Also, many of our members have reliably said that giving a reverb was the moment they felt most connected to our community as their own.

Nope. Both of those are important because they keep us from making something out of nothing when it comes to scripture and our understanding of God, especially when we try to use it to judge others, but a lot of smart people have done a lot of hard work to create commentaries and offer insights into the scriptures that we can use. It can be a dangerous ordeal at times to expound on scripture without the insights and knowledge of biblical and theological experts. However, real life interactions with texts are powerful and don’t require learnin’ to have. We like to read what the experts say in commentaries and decide whether it speaks to the current moment or not.

A little bit. I’m scared every time I do a reverb. There is responsibility in it and you have many people’s time and attention. It’s intimidating to stand in front of people and lay bare your experience with the scripture. But we love you and want to listen so don't feel daunted by this. This is a conversation with your community and God, and the people at COTA care deeply for their reverbers. Think of it as just telling a story to your loved ones.

Great question. Quick answer? Less long. Some would say size doesn’t matter, but in our opinion shorter is usually the way to go. We try for 8-10 minutes in length. There is no perfect word guide since we all speak at different speeds, but somewhere around 100 and 125 words a minute is normal-ish. Word counts can be incredibly helpIt always takes longer to speak than one imagines it will. Time might be flying by for you, but I can assure you it isn’t always for everyone else. I think 1000 words is a helpful goal (substituting a single picture doesn't count in this case). And remember, an off-the-cuff unwritten intro or outro also takes time.

Eat them like them crazy scrolls in revelation. There is no need to beat them to death and colonize them. Start by flirting and then develop a relationship. I always encourage people to read the texts a few times, pick which ones speak to them the most, and just see where the spirit takes them before looking at what other people have said about them. Other people haven’t had the same fascinating life experiences that you have had and bring to the task. Ultimately though, as I mentioned above, I believe it is important to read a few commentaries just to be sure there is nothing translation-wise or historically that completely changes our understanding of the passage. I've heard long sermons put their entire weight on a single word only to find out it was an accidental misspelling of a word or mistranslation. That being said, don't put too much weight on a commentary either. They are conversation partners - not ultimate authorities.  

WARNING: If you know what you want to preach on before you’ve even read the texts for the day, you are probably not listening to the texts and will be inclined to force them to say what you want them to say. I encourage you to try not to do that! It’s ok if we are working with a specific theme in conjunction with the liturgy, but let yourself be guided by the scriptures. The result of not doing this is often a mis-presentation of the scripture or the effective ignoring of it completely.

Specific guidelines for our inclusive church
Scripture brings us closer to God and others; it never divides

The Bible has many passages which have been used throughout church history to abuse persons or groups of people. In general, our community believes that Scripture can bring us closer to God’s ultimate love and fulfillment in the world, and we do not endorse readings of the text which shame, other, objectify, or abuse groups of people.

Please be aware of both your own perspective and your audience as you come to a text: remember that your words have the power to bring peace and reconciliation to groups that may not be represented well (or at all) in the text, or to create more alienation. Some of these groups include women, Jewish people, Gentiles, people of different ethnic backgrounds, LGBTQ-identified folks, people who have disabilities or are differently-abled, etc. Remember that your specific audience will more than likely include folks who: are experiencing loss, financial hardship, housing uncertainty, or homelessness, have a belief system that is non-Christian, sexuality and gender identities that are different from your own, have a different racial identity than you, may be immigrants, differently-abled, have political beliefs everywhere on the spectrum, or who carry other perspectives.

Your reverb should invite people into the life of the text, not further push them away. Of course, these things should not scare anyone away! We need to be courageous and humble in all of this. Your own perspective is valuable as well: if a feminist, queer, or political reading of a specific text seems appropriate, use it! Scan around for commentaries that also suggest these perspectives, but it is often helpful to read “against” a text by considering the point of view of characters in the story that is not the dominant narrative. This helps invite representation, which is something our community values.

Helpful Tips
Ivar’s own personal downfalls when writing a sermon
  1. I get excited about different ideas and try to fit all of them in resulting in a convoluted (and long) message. This is not your only chance to ever speak for the rest of your life - save some for later.
  2. I have a few awesome points and a great story but I fail to make smooth transitions between ideas so everything feels disjointed.
  3. Some poetic and beautiful language is necessary, but I can personally get way too involved with flowery language and as a result sometimes I end up basically hiding a piece of shit in a pile of pretty words.
  4. Sometimes I forget the good news and will get too caught up in how awful things can be, or sometimes I forget the harsh reality and get caught up in heaven instead. Always try to be mindful of both.
  5. I forget that not everyone in the congregation agrees with me politically, religiously or socially.
  6. I preach a sermon and then realize I didn't say anything that actually matters to anyone. Personally, I do this most often when I get too excited about being clever about something.
  7. I end up making the whole reverb about me instead of the people.
  8. I use the scripture to say something I want to say instead of letting scripture speak first. 
  9. I forget to look at the people who love me as I’m speaking.
  10. I make terrible jokes that aren’t actually funny at all.
Other Suggestions
Hard to do but helpful to think about
  1. See if you can sum up your sermon in one sentence (not apostle Paul length) then see if there is anything you have in there that doesn't really strengthen your claim (and don’t pretend you are not making a claim - we all are).
  2. Personal stories, a brief intro, and especially the end of the sermon are great places to move away from using your written text and look at people, but beware - time flies when we do this. I heard a casual intro to an 8 minutes sermon that was over 10 minutes long once.
  3. There is something good and beautiful hidden in every piece of scripture. Sometimes that goodness comes from preaching against a passage, sometimes it comes from giving imagined voice the voiceless in scripture, sometimes that goodness comes across clearly in the words as almost too obvious, sometimes it comes in reimagining the most familiar passages in a different way, etc. Be open to God’s good news. Feel free to think outside the box! I once heard a great sermon from the perspective of the element water being changed into wine.
Wrap Up

Do I need to turn in my reverb beforehand to make sure it is ok?

No. We trust you enough not to check your work and editorialize you. However, you are most certainly welcome to let your pastors look at it for comment if you’d like. We’re always happy to offer help in any way.


We don’t have a large repository of written resources to share in our office, but we certainly have some and are more than happy to lend them. One of the things you might consider is to purchase a true adult NRSV study bible. I personally recommend the Harper Collins Study Bible (edited by my brilliant former seminary dean). Should you want to invest in something substantial, my favorite written resource for preaching is called Feasting on the Word. This resource examines each text through a pastoral, homiletical, theological, and historical/literary lens.


This website has tons of resources that somebody pools from around the web. This is usually the first place I look for commentary or reflections for the week. It’s an ugly website but it contains so much information. There are commentaries, sermons, podcast links, liturgy guides, prayers, movie clipes etc.  A lot of free stuff. Great resource. Be somewhat wary though, it’s a broad resource but it’s not completely theologically filtered.


Great scriptural commentary with years and years of helpful archives. This is often the second place I go for commentary. There is a podcast that you can listen to that can be helpful and is great for a short commute. Click on the link to listen to what they said three years ago, six years ago, etc. to get a larger picture. Very helpful and easy to navigate.

Out in Scripture

It was produce a while ago now, but it is still a great resource. This Human Rights Campaign resource places comments about the Bible alongside the real life experiences and concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and allies.

Ekklesia Project

A scriptural/lectionary resource that is an intentional open source guide for pastors, laypersons and congregations.

Pulpit Fiction

This is another podcast that you can listen to. I often can’t get behind the music featured on it, but the content and conversation is usually pretty good and progressive enough.

Center for Excellence in Preaching

This is a good resource out of Calvin Theological Seminary

St. Louis Liturgy

Great Catholic resource. Good variety here.