The late John Chapman (Chappo), the Anglican Evangelist from Sydney, had a daily ritual.
He would read the editorial from the Sydney Morning Herald, then phone an evangelist colleague and talk about how they could move from that story to preaching the gospel.
It was a great way for iron to sharpen iron and to prepare for preaching that had an ear open to both the Bible and the world.
It was Karl Barth who famously suggested that the preacher,
“Take your Bible and take your newspaper and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”
Preachers need to be informed, even if now many get their news from digital sources.
Preachers need to be aware of the news, but they are not called to preach the news but to preach the good news. Our sermons are not supposed to sound like an editorial from the Guardian, Times, Telegraph or the Daily Mail.
Preaching is not supposed to be the wrong kind of Daily Echo!
This week the news has been buzzing on the topic of the Cummings and goings (sorry, could resist a Miranda Hart moment) of the Downing Street Special Advisor Dominic Cummings. This has led to a bold and united statement by the entire Church of England House of Bishops calling for his resignation.
Is this the primary role of those with spiritual oversight of the church?
Making political comments or preaching a political sermon that “… merely repeats what appears to be accepted as a newspaper opinion … would be an act of sheer-self-satisfaction.” (William Englemann Homiletics).
Preachers need to avoid easy point scoring by taking on soft targets.
Did the nation need the church to point out what, to most of the population, is patently obvious?
I wrestled with this issue before, during and after the Brexit referendum. I did preach on how we should approach voting on such a vital issue. I did not tell people what to vote but I did try to help people think about how to vote.
After the referendum preachers could have used the pulpit to castigate Vote Leave for being narrow minded, short-sighted, selfish and foolish, or Vote Remain for being unrealistic, overly pessimistic, unpatriotic and idealistic. This is not what the pulpit is for.
The church is truly prophetic when it speaks when no one else raises a voice; to speak on those issues and at those times where to speak might lead to getting killed for the privilege. Maybe that’s why there is only one Greek word for ‘witness’ and ‘martyr’!
Often there is silence at the very points where only the church is willing to speak out. Where were the unanimous voices on issues like abortion, euthanasia, sexual abuse, and racism?
(Note: This week some of the bishops have had death threats. Whether these are serious threats or the usual troll behaviour of social media remains to be seen.)
I remember vividly a Saturday morning in a cinema in the early 1980’s hearing the apologist Francis Shaeffer and U.S Surgeon General Everett Koop giving the seminar ‘Whatever Happened to the Human Race’? It bravely presented a biblical case for opposing abortion, infanticide and euthanasia.
Listening to Francis Shaeffer was like listening to an Old Testament prophet.
I still remember the posture and tone he adopted and the piercing appropriateness of his words as he echoed the words of Ezekiel the Prophet while speaking to our times.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” (Proverbs 31: 8).
Don’t simply be the Daily Echo in the pulpit.
Be the echo of another voice from another place.
We creatures of time need a transcendent voice.