Follow TV Tropes


Suspiciously Specific Sermon

Go To

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 life". Of course, The Law of Conservation of Detail applies: there's not much good reason to ask the readers to sit through a sermon that has no bearing on the story. (Unless it's an Author Tract, but that's another matter.)

Often overlaps with Inspiring Sermon, where the preacher gets the characters motivated to do something good.

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.

This may become a factor in a character's Turn to Religion, especially if the sermon is relevant to a dramatic crisis or turning point in their life.

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 Divine Intervention but by another character's influence. Sub-trope of Laser-Guided Broadcast, when the message doesn't necessarily have to be religious.


    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • In All Fall Down, Father Hector delivers a sermon on remaining strong in the face of adversity, intercut with a flashback to the Pantheon duking it out with the Order of Despots on the moon.
  • Early on in Kingdom Come, Norman McKay is delivering a sermon about the prophecies of the cataclysms of End Times, and stops when he realizes how dark it all sounds just following the destruction of Kansas. Then, when he's alone, he receives a visit from The Spectre, who lets him know that those prophecies are being played out right now.
  • Parodied in Preacher; after a night of telling off everyone in the shithole of a town he preached in, Reverend Jesse Custer had to face them the next morning at Mass. Cut to the present day, when he's telling the story:
    Tulip: What was the sermon going to be about?
    Jesse: Forgiveness.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Fate/Zero fic A Poisoned Chalice, Kotomine Risei gives a lecture on peace in response to violence, openly admitting this is a reaction to the recent violence in Fuyuki. Two of the major perpetrators, Tohsaka Tokiomi and Matou Kariya, were specifically asked to attend the Mass and get privately lectured afterward, although Tokiomi and Risei's secret alliance meant that he was more easily forgiven.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Boondock Saints, a monsignor delivers a sermon referencing the Kitty Genovese case, saying "now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men." The brothers McManus, after leaving the church, feel called to action and spend the rest of the movie killing off various heavyweights of Boston's organized crime world.
    • Although the scene is shown at the start of the movie, it's implied that sequentially it takes place later (perhaps even after) the main sequence of events, in which case the speech wasn't coincidental but a result of the Vigilante Man activities of the protagonists.
  • The Vicar in Deadly Advice has a habit of preaching sermons especially apposite of Jodie and Beth's situation.
  • In The Distinguished Gentleman, Eddie Murphy's Con Man-turned-Sleazy Politician character gets dragged to a Sunday morning service by his girlfriend. The preacher turns out to be a fellow congressman who had earlier made his (well-deserved) disdain for Murphy's ethics perfectly clear. The sermon (which is about living an honest and honorable life) is very obviously directed at Murphy, to the extent that the preacher maintains eye contact with him throughout.
  • In Dogma, the revamp of Catholicism centers on renewed forgiveness at one church, which is exactly what two fallen angels need to get back into heaven. This was invoked on both parts by a third party seeking to have them thus disprove God and erase all existence.
    • It was the failure of this to work before the story begins that caused Bethany to realize she was straying from religion.
    • Not part of the sermon, but the mass Bethany attends early on includes a mention of the church's support of John Doe Jersey, which becomes important later on.
  • The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain features a sermon that encourages the townsfolk to continue building the mound that transforms the hill into a mountain on a Sunday. (This is very deliberate, though he is encouraged to do it by what page of his bible opens at.
  • In Faster, Driver is listening to a radio pastor preach about forgiveness and letting go of vengeance as he drives around murdering the people who have wronged him. Then he goes up to the last guy on his list, and lo and behold, it turns out that it's the pastor, who knew that Driver escaped from the news reports, and has been preaching directly towards him in hopes that he might change his ways. He does. Sort of.
  • Two of these in Footloose, one early on establishing the town elders' opposition to rock 'n' roll, and the change of heart one near the end of the film.
  • A French priest uses scripture to declare that liberation is coming in The Longest Day, despite the fact that German soldiers are in his audience.
  • Mister Roberts. On VE Day, Mr Roberts is listening to the radio and hears someone giving a speech on the need to destroy destroy the symbols of tyranny and oppression. "You must tear up its roots like a poisoned tree, and cast it from the earth!" Roberts obediently salutes the radio, then throws the beloved palm tree of his tyrannical captain overboard.
  • Oh, God! This trope is partially lampshaded in Oh God! You Devil. Rock star Bobby Shelton, in the midst of an existential crisis due to his Deal with the Devil, notices a ragged street preacher holding forth. The vagrant seems to focus on Bobby as he intones that "You must go to the desert!" In the next scene, we find Bobby ensconced in the penthouse suite of a Vegas hotel. This turns out to be exactly where he needs to be.
  • The Raid (1954): Rev. Lucas delivers a sermon on the subject rebellion that sends Lt. Keating into a homicidal rampage and forces Maj. Benton to shoot and kill him.
  • The Thief Of Bagdad 1927: the thief in his early antics overhears an imam preaching about the need to earn happiness. He breaks in to loudly deny it. But later, having realized he is unworthy of the princess he loves, he comes back to the mosque, and the imam repeats the message to send him off on his quest to become worthy.
  • The Witches of Eastwick. As Daryl van Horn is being blown toward the church by a gale-force wind, the sermon being spoken inside is as follows:
    Elijah fled to the Mount of God, and behold, the Lord passed by and the great and strong wind rent the mountains and breaked in pieces the rocks before the Lord.
  • Happens regularly in movies from World Wide Pictures, understandably considering it's the moviemaking arm of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Naturally enough, most of their films feature a clip or cameo of Billy Graham preaching a sermon, which usually turns out to be exactly what the characters needed to hear.

  • 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 every 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."

  • And Then There Were None: General Mcarthur is unable to go to church whenever the pastor reads the story of David and Uriah, being guilty of the Uriah Gambit himself, although against his wife's lover and his subordinate rather than seducing the subordinate's wife.
  • 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.
  • Invoked in the Deryni novel The King's Justice. A powerful Deryni, who is visiting the Gwynedd royal court, secretly influences Queen Jehana's personal chaplain to use a specific passage from Scripture in his daily sermon. The passage is about Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus, and it strikes directly at Jehana's most vulnerable emotional point: the fact that she, a lifelong Deryni-hater, is herself Deryni, and passed on the Deryni "taint" to her son King Kelson.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • In The Murder at the Vicarage, the Vicar has to give a sermon impromptu on the Sunday following the murder (the curate, who was scheduled to give the sermon, falls ill at the eleventh hour), and finds himself giving an uncharacteristically fire-and-brimstone sermon on sinners being called to repentence. It actually inspires one of his parishioners to confess though not to the murder.
  • 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.
  • Many adaptations of The Scarlet Letter have sermons in whatever church Hester goes to being about the evils of adultery, specifically because, as the most prominent person in the area to be caught committing a major sin, she makes a great negative example for the preachers to point out to everyone else.
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • Little House on the Prairie invokes the trope in one episode: Mrs. Oleson, the editor for the town's newspaper, prints an article describing a family of German immigrants as "illiterate" due to the fact that they have not learned to read English (though they can speak English just fine). Angered, Charles Ingalls requests to lead the town's next church service, and at that service asks Mrs. Oleson to read a passage from his Bible... the Bible he gives her is the immigrant family's Bible, which is naturally written in German. Mrs. Oleson gets the point immediately and angrily sits back down, while Charles proceeds to give a sermon about not speaking ill of others behind their backs.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Wire: In the episode "Margin of Error", on the Sunday before the Democratic primary a pastor preaches from Exodus chapter 18, in which "Moses ... chose able men to rule over the people." The sermon is aimed partly at dark horse candidate Thomas Carcetti, but more directly at the all-black congregation, effectively giving them permission to vote for a white mayor of Baltimore.
    Carcetti: You're holding me to a high standard. Moses? I mean, Jesus, Reverend— I'm sorry...
    Pastor: Moses will do for now. We'll save Jesus for your second term.

  • A deliberate example: in Doubt, the priest who is suspected of molesting a little boy gives a pointed sermon on the dangers of gossip.

    Video Games 
  • In The Guild, it's possible for a preacher character to use his position to preach against a particular enemy. Obviously, this is the engineered variety.

  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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 1483, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, 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, and his banishment and death may have been the final factor that caused the bloodless coup which put Emperor Justin I on the throne. Many Greek Orthodox churches still celebrate the Holy Saturday mass that John Chrysostom wrote annually.
  • 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. After an unnerving rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", 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.
  • North Carolina pastor Larry Wright was preaching a sermon against gun violence when a man with a loaded weapon entered the church intending (in his words) "to do something terrible that night." In a true Badass Pacifist moment, the pastor walked over to the gunman, gave him a hug and a few kind words, took away the gun, offered to pray for him, and invited him to stay for the service. The gunman wound up making a Heel–Faith Turn.
  • While campaigning for president in 2016, Donald Trump made an unscheduled visit to a Presbyterian church service in a small town in Iowa. It so happened that the Scripture reading that Sunday came from the Book of Corinthians, saying in the chosen translation that no member of the body can say to another, "You're fired!". The pastor's sermon applied this to welcoming Syrian refugees and Mexican migrants, which happened to be notorious points of controversy in Trump's platform. In an interview afterward Trump wryly speculated that the reader may have been trying to tell him something, but in fact the Scriptures came from a lectionary that was arranged several years in advance.

And so, my children, go forth, and learn the way of the Tropes, that your works shall be great in the eyes of Man...