JFK and Preaching still Matters

While in a seminary classroom, I recall a lesson passed on by one of my professors. One student asked him how long a pastor ought to preach, and he responded, “I try to get through preaching before the people get through listening.”

That’s still a good rule to live by, as I haven’t heard too many people complain about a short sermon every now and again.

I’ve done my share of reading, and continue to stay well-informed on the issues of the day. There is the axiom that Karl Barth lived by in that he said he preached with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. That is a pretty good model to follow.

Like many of you, I get information from the internet and twitter more than newspapers these days though. There is so much out there to read and absorb and process. There are certain occasions, however, when faith and tragedy intersect in such a way to cause us to stop in our tracks and wonder about our spiritual condition.

This is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. The day has an unusual mood to it. Listening to Mike and Mike in the Morning, I heard Coach Bill Curry talk about how he felt and thought about this life-changing event. He remembered it like it was yesterday. Some things are like that. The question as to whether Pete Rozelle should have canceled NFL games on that Sunday has been debated, and the history behind that decision is fascinating. In short. the Commissioner was friends with JFK’s press secretary who said the president would have wanted games to go on. Rozelle said it was the worst decision of his life.

I came across an article about the Sunday after that terrible day, and in particular what was said and heard from the pulpits in Dallas churches that weekend. Many people crowded into the pews to be together and hear something that might help them process what happened. It is in those types of situations when people out to church buildings when they wouldn’t ordinarily do so.

I wish people still crowded  into the pews of our church buildings every Sunday, but that simply isn’t the case any more. Several decades have passed us by and people don’t automatically wake up and come to worship anymore. This post-modern, post-Christian culture poses its share of challenges and it doesn’t do any good to lament the changes in our society. The institutional church has its challenges of relating and adapting to 21st century culture and its generation. Time is better spent looking for ways to engage our world and share the gospel through what we say and do.

I still think preaching matters. Fortunately, there isn’t a tragedy like the JFK assassination to deal with every weekend. But there is a real and present awareness that people are hurting and struggling as individuals and need some encouragement and challenge as to what to do in their situation. Spiritual formation remains a vital part of our livelihood as followers of Christ, and corporate worship and proclamation are important components.

This Sunday I will opening Paul’s letter to the Philippians and talking about what it means to “rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!” It’s remarkable to me that in spite of everything Paul had experienced and from the darkness of the prison cell he chose words of encouragement for his people. Two women whom Paul cared about and respected were fighting with each other and this too had an impact on the church. It’s tough to rejoice when fighting is going on.

Christians live in the light of the resurrection of Christ, and that reality intersects with every situation we can find ourselves in. I’m grateful for the work of so many pastors through the years who have shaped my own development, and more importantly that the message and hope of salvation proclaimed in the 1st century remains significant for the 21st century.


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