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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