A READER in the Church of England, Dr Clare Masters, who is a former palliative care doctor, has won the Sermon of the Year 2019.
The national final of the fourth annual competition, which celebrates and rewards excellence in preaching, was hosted by the London School of Theology (LST) and Preach magazine at the end of last month.
The four finalists were given ten minutes to preach on the theme “The Power of Love” in front of a live audience and a panel of judges.
In her descriptive winning sermon, Dr Masters, who has been preaching in her village church in Kent for ten years, reflects on Luke 8.40, in which a synagogue leader, Jairus, asks Jesus to heal his dying daughter. On the way to the house, Jesus heals a woman who had been “bleeding for 12 years” when she touches his cloak. He then raises Jairus’s child from the dead.
“If this was a television episode of Casualty,” Dr Masters begins, “the episode would have opened with a 999 call-handler: ‘Nearest unit divert to Church Lane, paediatric emergency at the vicarage: 12-year-old girl unconscious, breathing irregular. Hello? Are you still there Mr Jairus? Stay on the line, please, there is an ambulance on the way to your daughter.’”
Jairus would wait nervously on the drive for the ambulance, she said, only to see it flagged further down the road by a “pale and unkempt” homeless woman. This woman, an outcast, has spent all her money on unsuccessful gynaecological treatment, Dr Masters says — a detail from St Mark’s Gospel omitted from St Luke’s Gospel. “For 12 years, she has lived on the edges of society.”
The two stories reflect each other, Dr Masters continues. “They are stories of love in action, and we glimpse the far-reaching implications of God’s love to heal, restore, and transform . . . a glimpse of the Kingdom.” This includes those on the edge of society. “This is an example to emulate: let our love and concern for others galvanise us to seek Jesus.”
The judges praised Dr Masters’ “incredible gift of storytelling”. She said of her win: “Being selected as a finalist was a great surprise, and the final was an amazing evening, with Preach magazine and LST proclaiming God’s love.”
The runner-up was Olivia Haines, a first-year ordinand at St Mellitus College, whose sermon explored the need for love to be sincere and patient.
The other two finalists were Emma Ash, a student and writer who has preached fewer than ten times, and Steve Collinson, a retired head teacher and Methodist preacher from Northumberland.