I have been part of the RevGalBlogPals community, in one form or another, since I began seeking my first call. Has it been almost 5 years now? Wow! Yesterday, there was a discussion on their blog about approaching breaking news and current events in the weekly sermon, with the question of when do you and don’t you change the sermon for Sunday based on what is happening in the world, or your own church community. The question was asked in light of the shooting in Arizona this weekend, but it is not the first time is has been asked by clergy. I’ve logged in several times to comment and can’t quite gather my thoughts succinctly enough for a short comment, so I’m writing it here.
First, for those of you who may not know this about me, I used to be the chronic Saturday night sermon writer. As a solo pastor, it was just the way the rhythm of the week went. It was a good week if I was finished before midnight. Sometimes this was good when there was major news during the week. As I thought about the text during the week, there was more time and headspace to hear what the Holy Spirit may be saying about any given event. The shootings at Virginia Tech, natural disasters, political events – they all found their ways into the word I preached and it fit and worked. Mostly because I was not re-writing a sermon, but writing a sermon. Even if the sermon was done early and I changed it, the only person impacted (preparation-wise) by the change was me. It was easier to adapt and change.
My process is different now. I am no longer preaching every week (I have a new call as an Associate Pastor), and given the requirements of our middle service, need to have the sermon finished mid-week so that the visuals that accompany it can also be prepared. Changing the sermon dramatically does not just affect me, but an entire team of people. Not to say that I would not, but it makes me pause and think, rather than react, which is what I may have done before. On Saturday afternoon, when I was on Facebook, reading status updates from friends about rewriting sermons and changing what they preached I began to feel a knot in my stomach. Was I being called to re-think the word I believed God had given me to preach to our congregation for Saturday? I watched some CNN and got some details. I re-read the scripture. I prayed about it. God was really quiet, which was really annoying. I made dinner. And while I was chopping vegetables, asking God to give me something to say, it came to me – God had not given me any words to say about this specific event for the sermon on Sunday. God had given words to other preachers in other contexts, but that was not the word God had for our congregation on this day. My response to this specific tragedy was to lift up prayers during the pastoral prayers.
To answer the question of when and how to address current events in the sermon, I think, for me, it comes down to how I approach most of my sermon writing process: listening for the Word God has for the people of God. We live in the world, and read both the Bible and the newspaper, as Barth calls us to do; however we must remember what else he said about that – to interpret our newspapers through our Bibles. What is God saying to us this day about this text, is my starting place. I rely on the Holy Spirit to lead me from there.