In my previous post I confessed my addiction to the news. Throughout my day I keep up with national and international events, from a variety of sources. I talked about how the news helps form my prayers, and my reactions as I try to follow Christ in the world today. I try to see the events of the day through a theological lens.
You would not know this from my weekly sermons though. I don’t preach current events. I rarely refer to the events of the week in sermons (although sometimes they show up in pastoral prayers). I know that Karl Barth supposedly said we are to preach with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, but I don’t think he meant we should adopt the New York Times as our text for the week. The problem with preaching on current events is that they have a notoriously short shelf life. One week it is racists marching in the streets, the next it is refugees on our borders, and the next it is Ebola in Africa, which soon morphs into the opioid crisis. Talk about a mass shooting, I am sad to say, soon turns to talk about out of control wild fires. News of the hottest summer on record grows stale with the autumn football players who kneel on the sidelines. Black lives matter, until some one shoots up a synagogue.
I exaggerate, but not by much. The national attention span is pretty short. The important events of the day are mostly determined by the play they get on various news shows, or as we used to say in journalism school, the press doesn’t tell people what to think, but it does determine what they think about. I am not going to have the agenda of my weekly sermon hijacked by eager journalists, looking for the next big story.
Given the number of events I could preach on, how do I choose? Gun violence? Health Care? Climate change? Immigration? Homelessness? Racism? Natural disasters? Elections? Opioid crisis? Syrian refugees? Political corruption?
My on-going consumption of the news does affect my preaching. Stories about racial injustice come and go, but the message that we are called to racial justice never gets old. Various think pieces on climate change get national attention for a few hours, but stewardship of God’s creation is an enduring topic. The brokenness of our national political dialog draws attention for a bit, but the need for meaningful communication, that involves active listening, will never die. Homelessness comes and goes in news reports, but the call to compassionate action stays with us.
I don’t preach the news, but I do try to preach in a way that gives people the tools they need to deal with the events of the day, whatever those events might be. When It comes to how I preach about current events from the pulpit, I try to help people see the forest, and not focus on the trees. I try to help them navigate through the forest, and not avoid it all together. For example, we are a downtown church, and have a lot of homeless people who hang out around us. About every three months, the local paper or TV stations do a piece on homelessness. I tend to ignore those, and instead try to educate people on the problems with terms like, “deserving poor,” or to explain why many people cannot pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The result of this is our on-going bag lunch program (we give away between 250 and 300 bag lunches a week), opening our doors as a day shelter, and welcoming whoever comes through our doors for worship on Sunday mornings. In spite of the fact that I rarely preach on “homelessness,” we are known as one of the biggest advocates for housing issues in our community.
I tend to preach from the lectionary, which could be a blog post in and of itself. It is uncanny how often the lectionary text mirrors events of the day. Sometimes I feel like I ought to remind people that I did not choose the text of the day—that text chose me.
I prefer deep and abiding commitments to a few issues, rather than a constant broad sweep of the issues of the day. It’s like the old saying; Mushrooms grow in a day. Oaks take time, but the mushroom is gone tomorrow while the oak stands for decades.