Reworking your sermon on Saturday to speak to a weekend tragedy is stressful. Many of us have done it, some more than once. Usually, that stressful work is met by Sunday congregants who are grateful for a nimble preacher’s ability to speak to something they are struggling to make sense of.
Maybe sermons should not need to be totally reworked, though.
A colleague texted me on Saturday afternoon: “How’s that sermon coming in terms of Charlottesville?”
I responded without even thinking: “I was ready for it.” I hadn’t seen the news yet about a car driving through a crowd and killing a pedestrian, so shocking things were still developing that I didn’t feel completely prepared to address. But the sermon I had in hand was ready to speak to evil. The bulletins were already printed with, “Evil cannot achieve lasting form in a coherent, workable plan,” a quote from R.R. Reno’s terrific Genesis commentary, on the cover. The events lighting up my phone on Saturday just gave that evil a name.
The sermon wasn’t yet done, but neither did I feel it needed torn down and rebuilt.
I want to be an agile preacher. I want to produce sermons that are grounded in careful study of both the Word and the world and that can pivot to speak to the broad range of challenges my congregants are facing, only some of which are national tragedies. The more I preach, the more I like the idea I’ve heard attributed to John Wesley, that every preacher only ever preaches some variation on the same three sermons.
Yesterday’s was the one about the Christian response to evil, even before we all agreed on the evil we were talking about.