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Preaching when news & lectionary collide

Preaching when news & lectionary collide

When the big news story is the death of Osama Bin Laden and the first chance to preach on this is Mother’s Day, what’s a preacher to do? A rabbi, an imam and a minister talk about how to integrate the news of the day into the propers for the week.


Rabbi Justus Baird, of Auburn Seminary in New York, spoke to Sohaib Sultan, Muslim Chaplain at Princeton University and J.C. Austin, Director of the Center for Christian Leadership at Auburn Seminary and described his discussion in the Huffington Post.

Here is the conversation relative to the upcoming lessons in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Minister: Many Protestant churches follow the Revised Common Lectionary as their source for preaching, which is a series of readings that cover most of the Christian Bible over a three-year period. The Gospel reading this coming Sunday is the Road to Emmaus story, where some of Jesus’ disciples are leaving Jerusalem dejectedly, not knowing he has been raised from the dead. He joins them on their walk, though they don’t recognize him, and they tell him how they had hoped he would be the one to bring salvation, but he was killed. He chastises them for not having understood what Jesus was really up to and how Scripture laid it out. They are quite taken by his teaching, but don’t truly recognize him until they persuade him to join them for dinner and he breaks the bread for them. Once they recognize him, he disappears, and they run back to Jerusalem to tell everyone. I actually preached on this a couple of weeks after 9/11, and used it as a way to say that we need to recognize Christ’s unexpected presence among us and get back to the city to embody his radical love and grace.

Rabbi: How might Christians connect that text to these events?

Minister: I might focus on the idea of Christ being recognizable in celebration. I’m interested in the kinds of gatherings in which Jesus shows up and makes himself recognizable. It happens after walking with him, trying to understand Scripture, and attending to basic human needs of sustenance and community.

Imam: I see where you’re going: it connects to our conversation about communal gatherings on such occasions.

Minister: This connection literally only occurred to me a few minutes ago, and I’m not absolutely certain it works. Loving your enemy is a long and difficult road, and we Christians often don’t start down that road because it takes us where we don’t necessarily want to go. Perhaps the first step we can take is not “delighting” in the death of our enemy, which is what I hear when I hear “celebration” and which seems to characterize some of the more visible demonstrations.

Rabbi: It sounds like you are drawn to this idea of loving enemies, and using bin Laden as a quintessential enemy to sharpen the Christian teaching on the topic of how we behave toward enemies.

Minister: In the Matthew version of the “love your enemies” commandment, that teaching includes Jesus saying “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer.” It goes on to the “turn the other cheek” teaching, and then into “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … ” I often stay with the version in the gospel of Luke because it doesn’t include the line “do not resist an evildoer.” Just praying for your enemy in this case seems challenging enough for us all.

The discussion does not even touch on additional freight brought on by Mother’s Day.

Tell us, preachers, how do you plan to address the demise of Bin Laden versus the encounter with the Risen Christ?

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Jared C. Cramer

I’ll be entering into the “stranger” motif of the Emmaus story, emphasizing the hospitality the two disciples show to the unrecognized Jesus. I’ll use the common mother’s admonition that we “don’t talk to strangers” as a (hopefully!) humorous entry point to our potent fear of the stranger, which is a part of the divisions this world seeks to build around humans.

I’ll then point out that as we mature, good mothers actually encourage us to talk to strangers. In the end, I’ll talk about how Christians then view strangers, enemies, anyone who the world would say is separate from us.

I’ll mention bin Laden’s death as a part of this, but rely on the power of “what’s unsaid” as well.

Rod Gillis

I’ve been researching news stories from the past week that have featured interviews with the families if 9/11 victims. Their perspectives, in their own words, on the outcome and aftermath of the Bin Laden mission may be characterized with words like, intricate, thoughtful, complex, and courageous. The views expressed from these folks reflect a painful and honest struggle for some sort of integration–one person, for instance, tended to shun the word “closure”. I will open the homily by sharing what I’ve heard from these folks. (Analysts and pundits have overshadowed their voices). I hope to place an attempted understanding of their struggle and their search for purpose and meaning beside the readings for Sunday–readings which ask questions such as; What is the nature of true community in the aftermath of pain and suffering? How does our quest for ideal community help us live in the reality of our present moment? (Acts) How does profound life changing experiences, including very difficult experiences, provide an orientation for the future? (Luke). I learned a little about two persons from among the 9/11 families. One is a mother who lost a daughter, and the other is a daughter who lost her mother. I plan to stay away from “hallmark” moments however. We can learn a lot about faith from ordinary people who must live with tremendous ambiguity. On 9/11 I was at a stained glass studio with a team from our parish. The studio was getting ready to translate templates into glass–when we heard the news about the attacks on a radio playing in the background. Afterward, as the nature of 9/11 became apparent, I wondered, what could be more distant from the real world than this project? The project did come to fruition. It rings our nave with a multi-panel set of windows on the theme of creation ending with ” In Christ there is a new creation”. Between resurrection and parousia is the “yet/but not yet moment” (I Peter. Rahner?) The readings and the theme of our windows may help us focus in on how we are called to live in such a “moment”.

Ann Fontaine

Last week I preached on forgiveness is important – the death of bin Laden is like a “pop quiz” testing whether I mean what I say in sermons. I may go with that – but then there is the high holy day of Hallmark that began as an anti-war holiday. The Emmaus story is one of my favorites – whenever we break bread Jesus is present – the barley loaf and rough wine of his day or milk and cookies at the end of a long school day. My first thoughts are at my blog.

Richard E. Helmer

I’m reflecting about our choosing the world in which our lives are planted:

The world of violence we saw writ large again this week — one that we are sorely tempted to inhabit (one which OBL clearly chose); the one that crucified Christ; the one that shatters community and has the disciples on the road to Emmaus downcast.

And the world our mothers (in many cases) first introduced us to: the world of hospitality and peace; the world revealed in the breaking of the bread; the world of the Risen Christ where violence is overcome.

Which world do we choose this day?

James Mackay

Over the years, the best preachers I’ve heard constantly preach Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Just as the Triduum is one day, one celebration, so to do we find Passion, Death, and Resurrection in all the events of life. For example, we have Peter denying the Christ three times, even swearing an oath, yet he is there running to see the empty tomb.

So, it also is with the juxtaposition of the killing of Osama bin Laden and the Third Sunday of Easter. It’s an occasion of Passion, Death, and Resurrection, albeit with unequal parts of death: death on 11 September 2001, death on 2 May 2011. Yet, an ounce of Resurrection outweighs two tons of death.

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