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Suspiciously Specific Sermon
The power of religion is generally appreciated by those who are willing to go to religious services. As well it should be, as many religious texts were written or spoken to be appropriate to the people of the time, and often the same problems faced by them are faced by people today. Considering the number of people attending a service, it's more likely than not that one
of them will find something useful in the sermon, the part specifically written and spoken to be applicable to current times.
Here, that gets a bit exaggerated. Not only is the sermon based on something current, it seems to be speaking directly to the important characters attending the service, telling them what to do to continue, start, or end the plot of the episode. As such, religious service directly invokes the power of religion to be true to life, by having the service be directly in line with the plot of the work, and by telling the characters "this is true to your
Depending on how much the religious leader (pastor/rabbi/imam/other) knows about the plot, or whether higher powers are personally involved, what seems like a Contrived Coincidence
to the characters could be engineered circumstances.
Compare Coincidental Broadcast
, where a TV broadcast just happens to be related to the plot, and Chekhov's Classroom
, where key information is framed in an academic lesson rather than a spiritual one. Could be a literal form of Deus ex Machina
. See also Easy Evangelism
, a common result of this trope (especially when there's a Writer on Board
). Compare and contrast Pre-Approved Sermon
, where the sermon's relevance is controlled not by the Almighty
but by another character's influence.
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- There's an old joke about a man who lost his hat, and decided to steal a hat from his church's lost and found after attending mass on Sunday. During the mass, the sermon was about the Ten Commandments, and the preacher was emphasizing "Thou Shalt Not Steal". After the service, the man told the priest, "Thank you for your sermon. I was considering a great sin but your words have convinced me otherwise." The priest declared, "I am glad to hear that you took my sermon to heart, my son." The man answered, "Yes, when you said, 'Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery,' I remembered where I left my hat."
- A pastor keeps preaching sermons directed at one specific member of his congregation, who after the service always comments "Pastor, you sure told them.". One Sunday, only this parishioner shows up, and the pastor takes the opportunity to preach his most pointed sermon ever. After the service, the parishioner says to the pastor "Pastor, you sure told them, if they'd have been here."
- A preacher tells his congregation, "Next week I plan to preach about the sin of lying. To help you understand my sermon, I want you all to read Mark 17." The following Sunday, the preacher asks who read it, with very hand going up. The preacher smiles and says, "Mark has only sixteen chapters. I will now proceed with my sermon on the sin of lying."
- In The Help, a sermon saying that bravery is often just having the courage to do what's right inspires Aibileen to help Skeeter with her book.
- In every Christian romance novel where one lead (or both!) is not a church goer, they will be talked into going just where the sermon is what they need to turn to God and realize that they're in love with the other party.
- In The Canterbury Tales, the Pardoner, a shameless indulgence hawker and Straw Hypocrite, mentions how he exploits this trope while preaching about sin in order to single out for castigation various people in the crowd he perceives as having wronged his order in some way, "or worse—wronged me!" without actually naming them. This, as he goes on to explain, is one of the ways he "spits out venom in the guise of holiness" even—or especially—when his victims have every reason and right to be censuring him.
- The engineered variety occurs in Rocket Boysnote after Sonny and his gang start causing problems from rockets gone awry. The official company minister lectures on the importance of sons obeying fathers (Sonny's dad just so happens to be the foreman). And then the minister turns it back around by delivering a followup sermon about how fathers should be more supportive of their sons.
- In Moby-Dick, Ishmael and Queequeg attend a church service where the sermon is about the book of Jonah, right before leaving on a whaling expedition.
- Invoked in the Legends Of The Guardian-King, where it happens fairly frequently because God quietly arranges for the pastor to select whatever sermon topic the protagonists need to hear about.
- In A Wolf In The Soul, the Hakham Dawid engineers this deliberately by inviting Greg to a specific sermon on the subject of wolves. Weirdness ensues.
Live Action TV
- The West Wing - Toby's at temple on Friday evening, listening to his Rabbi say "Vengeance is not Jewish". He gets a phone call from Sam, who asks "By any chance, is your Rabbi giving a sermon on the death penalty?" Toby listens to another sonorous phrase demonizing the death penalty. "... yes?" This is not an accident.
- In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond the Stars", a dream character played by the actor who plays Sisko's father gives some very specific advice to Sisko while giving a street sermon.
- In the Babylon 5 episode "And The Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place", one scene is intercut between a sermon about how people need to resist speciesism and anti-alien sentiment because "that hate will turn on you, and that same hate will destroy you", and Lord Refa being beaten to death by a bunch of Narns for his myriad crimes against them.
- Played with in an episode of Ballykissangel where the village has gone nuts over the radio report that the jackpot-winning lottery ticket was bought in the town store. Everyone's trying like mad to figure out which of their number has suddenly become rich, with Quigley in particular trying to get them to invest with him. Father MacAnally gets fed up and delivers a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon on the Seven Deadly Sins, particularly lust and greed. But the sermon is short-circuited by one of the village kids coming into the church to reveal that the winner was announced to be a tourist from Dublin.
- Monsignor Renard. The Germans are giving out free bread to disrupt a protest curfew by the French citizens. Renard is bluntly told by the German commander to keep off politics in his sermon. He does so, but concludes his sermon with a biblical quote. "Man does not live by bread alone!"
- Shows up a fair amount in 7th Heaven, as usually the Issue Of The Week(tm) would tie directly into Eric's sermon.
- Another deliberate example: in Doubt, the priest who is suspected of molesting a little boy gives a pointed sermon on the dangers of gossip.
- Fans!: Rikk and his two wives come to church to discover their favorite pastor has been booted out while they were elsewhere; the new preacher's sermon is on the evils of bigamy and the trio realize their identities have been leaked.
- Because of the setup of the show, this is to be expected about the show Moral Orel. It also helps that the preacher is one of the few characters whose head isn't up his ass, and thus he can make the connection transparent (though the others still won't see it). However, this isn't intentional in every episode. Orel's belief that it is is what establishes the plot in some episodes.
- The Simpsons will occasionally have episodes where Reverend Lovejoy or Ned Flanders ties in faith to the plot.
- Also parodied on at least one occasion. For example, during an episode where Homer and Ned have a bit of role reversal, Ned is pulled over for erratic driving after fleeing from Homer. While doing quite well on the sobriety test, a bus full of church-goers pass by, distracting Ned enough to cause him to fall over and fail the test. The next Sunday, Reverend Lovejoy announces his sermon, entitled "What Ned did."
- Another episode played with this by having Lovejoy preach about the evils of gambling (which the episode revolved around), then after the service as everyone was leaving, you could see ads for the church's bingo night.
- There were a couple of occasions where priests saying mass for King Richard the Lionheart would take as their topic "The sin of Sodom", to the point of almost being a laser-guided sermon directed at the King.note
- On 22 June 1438 Richard Duke of York listened to a public sermon by the popular preacher and monk Ralph Shaa (brother of the mayor of London) on the Biblical text "bastard sons shall not take root". It explained that since Edward IV's sons were illegitimatenote the Duke was the legitimate heir and should become Richard III.
- Circa 403, John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, preach against extravagance in feminine dress. The Empress Eudoxia said, "Hey, he's talking about me!" and had him deposed and banished to what is nowadays Georgia (not that one, the other one). He died on his way there.
- Rep. Barbara Lee got one of these when she was deciding how to vote on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists on September 12, 2001. Her instinct was to vote against it as a "blank check", but she was concerned this might be seen as disunity in a crucial moment. Both houses of Congress were to attend a prayer service at the National Cathedral: the Senate had rushed their vote (for), so they could be there. Lee wasn't planning on going, but changed her mind and caught the last bus. Rev. Nathan Baxter spoke on Jeremiah 31:15, and then prayed for the wisdom "that as we act, we not become the evil that we deplore." Lee voted against the Authorization. She was the only Congressperson to do so.
- The English Franciscan Friar (and later Cardinal) William Petow bravely delivered a sermon in which he compared Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to the Biblical villains King Ahab and Jezebel note ... while the King was attending his church. Surprisingly, Henry didn't lose his temper, and instead tried to win Petow around to his way of thinking. It didn't work, and not long afterwards Petow fell from favour and ultimately (after a brief spell in prison) fled to the safety of the continent.
And so, my children, go forth, and learn the way of the Tropes
, that your works shall be great in the eyes of Man...