Nathan Kirkpatrick: When does breaking news compel a preacher to rewrite Sunday’s sermon?

faithandleadership.com | 8/20/2019 | Staff
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It has happened repeatedly in recent years. On Saturday afternoon, around 3 or 4 o’clock, my phone’s screen flashes alive with a news alert from The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Some of the alerts seem trivial, hardly worthy of the title “breaking news.” Others, though, are so staggering that “breaking news” hardly expresses what is world-shaking, gut-wrenching, terrifying, heartbreaking.

I have friends whose anxiety is so elevated on a day-to-day basis that they have disabled all notifications and alerts on their phones. They simply no longer have the emotional or spiritual capacity to process another tragedy, and for them, this disabling is an act of self-care. One empathizes.

Pulpit - Sunday - Mornings - Option - Part

For those of us who regularly find ourselves in a pulpit on Sunday mornings, though, this is seldom an available option. 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.

But this raises an inevitable question: When does the preacher change Sunday’s sermon in response to Saturday’s news?

Discussion - Preachers - Twitter - Facebook - Saturday

This is a favorite discussion among preachers on Twitter and Facebook on Saturday afternoons when shocking news has yet again broken. Someone tweets or posts, “How are you going to preach about this tomorrow?” Several people then offer constructive suggestions, often with deep insight into Scripture, the tradition or the situation.

Because this is social media, though, it does not take long for the quality of the help and the conversation to devolve. Someone starts preacher shaming: “If you don’t talk about this on Sunday, you shouldn’t be in a...
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