Recently Pope Francis cautioned against sermons (homilies) that are too long. Perhaps you are shocked by the prospect of a homily or sermon in a Roman Mass actually being long enough to be noticed! In any case, here are his words:
The homily . . . should be brief and avoid taking on the semblance of a speech or a lecture. A preacher may be able to hold the attention of his listeners for a whole hour, but in this case his words become more important than the celebration of faith. If the homily goes on too long, it will affect two characteristic elements of the liturgical celebration: its balance and its rhythm. . . . The words of the preacher must be measured, so that the Lord, more than his minister, will be the centre of attention. (Evangelii Gaudium, 138)
I think we Lutherans would agree that the sermon should not take on the semblance of a speech or a lecture. I am not so sure we would agree that it is possible for a preacher to hold the attention of his hearers for an hour, but I will grant the Pope that anyhow. What Lutherans probably quibble with is the idea that a homily which is too long detracts from the balance and rhythm of the liturgy and steals the attention away from the rightful peaks of the Gospel read and the Sacrament administered. We shouldn't.
As I mentioned in beginning, one of the complaints of the Divine Service is that it takes too long. The appeal to the "dry mass" that ends at the offertory is that it is shorter -- significantly so. It allows the preacher additional time to preach while getting everything within the magical framework of under 60 minutes. So, the old saw goes, if you have Holy Communion, something else has to be omitted to come in on target so that the worship service is not too long. The parts of the liturgy are the prime candidates for omission. And who would miss them? (tongue in cheek here)
Unfortunately, it requires major surgery on the Divine Service to make for a meaningful reduction in time. Most of the sung responses are so short that omitting them all saves you only moments. Even the longer sung portions of the liturgy are short enough so that together they represent may 5-10 minutes of real saving. And what is that -- a 10% saving???
Perhaps Francis is on to something worth noticing for Lutherans as well. First of all, time and the typical ideal of 59 1/2 minutes are not relevant to the worship of God's House. We live by His time and not by the ticking of a clock. Where do we have to go and what is so important on our agenda that saving a dozen minutes is of supreme importance on Sunday morning?
Secondly, it may well be that Francis has heard more than Roman preachers and that he is correct in saying that sermons do not necessarily gain anything substantial from added length. They might. But that is not guaranteed. The preacher should be careful about the time allotted to him and owes his hearers not to waste their time. What I mean is that the sermon is not the central point in the Divine Service for which the liturgy is merely prelude and postlude. The preacher needs to preach faithfully, carefully distinguishing Law and Gospel, and to carefully use the text but he need not require an abundance of time to do this. I am not advocating for short sermons here. I am only suggesting that the sermon is not the tail that wags the liturgy. Rather, all the parts of the Divine Service (including sermon) work together and do not compete -- either for attention or for time.
Finally, I advocate for the two minute warning. Saving two minutes by omitting this part of the Divine Service or that is not worth it. The worship of God's people takes as long as it takes. In addition, if you need to save a few minutes, tighten up the sermon a bit and see if you can say the same thing in fewer words. Nothing is more shocking to the folks in the pew than when the preacher stops leaving them hungry for more. As preachers we might try it once in a while. As hearers we need to be less conscious of time over all. As liturgists we need to cut back on the announcements and commentary and let the liturgy sing unhindered by our ad lib. As worship planners we need to pay less attention to saving a minute here or there and making sure that we weave together the pericopes, the liturgical options, the seasonal direction, and the ordinary in such a way that they flow seamlessly and wonderfully toward the fruitful goal of having met the Lord in His House where He promised to be -- in Word and Sacrament.