Growing up in church, I was accustomed to hearing the terms “sermon” and “message” used interchangeably. “The pastor will now come and bring the message” was used just as often as “The pastor will now come and bring the sermon.” Both statements are accurate, of course. The preacher who has heard from God does, in fact, have a message to share, and that message will be delivered in sermon form. It may be helpful, at least for the preacher, to distinguish the two terms more carefully.
The message describes the content of the sermon. It is that thing that God wants said to these people at this time from this text. The sermon, however, is the vehicle or the instrument that allows for the effective communication of that message. Creating the sermon involves making hundreds of decisions that are seldom “right” or “wrong” but are, more often, a matter of “good” and “better.” Should I use this piece before this piece or should I use it at all? Would this story help people or confuse them? Would it help if I were to shape it in another direction? Is this the right word to use? All of these decisions and more go into the construction of a presentation form that can help people hear the Word that God has for them.
It should be noted, that the form of the sermon is not insignificant. The biblical text comes in many forms (gospel, poetry, epistle, and many more) and it might serve the preacher to consider how the form of the text might give insight to the form of the sermon. Forms are not neutral. They effect the shape and direction of the communication of thought in significant ways. Such things need to be considered in the shaping of a sermon.
In the end, however, the sermon is not the end. The sermon is only the means to the end. It is the tool that allows the preacher to meet the objective which is to help people hear from God.