When does breaking news compel a preacher to rewrite Sunday’s sermon? Those of us in ministry often have to wrestle with how to speak about current events in our homilies. In a world with 24-hour news channels and instant phone notifications, many frequenting a house of worship are not there to encounter what flashes on their phones or plays on their televisions. They are looking for a spiritual encounter with a higher power. Yet there are times when the breaking news is so tragic or shocking that for Sunday’s spiritual encounter to be profound and actual, it must include Saturday’s news.
Rev. Nathan Kirkpatrick, Managing Director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School writes that “If part of the work of preaching is bridging the distance between the world of the Scriptures and our world today, if we are interpreting the meaning and weight of eternal promises for contemporary life, then preachers must at the very least be conversant with the world as it is and as it is becoming — even as that is unfolding in the moment.” His piece argues that there are times when the carefully crafted homily must be thrown out in order to bring the power and healing that God offers into the lives affected by the grief or powerlessness of a particular tragedy. He details some helpful questions a preacher can ask in order to determine whether or not the original homily must be changed. They are only helpful, however, to the extent that the preacher believes that God is trying to speak healing to a broken and often grief-stricken world.