Yes, I know, I write them ages ahead of time and – not being a prophet – I do not foresee world, national or local events four months ahead of time. But, it bears saying, I do put my sermons through an edit in the day or two before I deliver it. So, if something particularly pertinent should be included, it can be and if certain illustrations or comments are now woefully out of date, they can be changed or removed.
But I saw this post by Dave Williams yesterday. I thought it was worth pushing back a little on why I almost never do what he suggests. I say ‘almost’ because I’m not saying there are no circumstances under which I might link current events in. If something is particularly pertinent so far as the passage is concerned, we’re foolish to overlook it. But, for many of the reasons below, I often don’t bring national crises into my preaching.
Dave rightly notes that we don’t want to be driven by the news cycle and, instead, want to usually preach through books of the Bible. That is precisely what we do. For that reason, he doesn’t tend to scrap his sermon (just as I wouldn’t) in order to preach on some current going on. But I also think that trying to shoehorn that stuff in to what I am due to preach rarely works very well. So, this Sunday, I was preaching on Revelation 19 and the vindication of God’s people when Jesus returns in the face of the world and all it stands for. At best, trying to build in references to the petrol/HGV driver crisis and panic buying would have been forced, if at all relevant. Even if I decided there was some link I could make to it, I doubt it would be the primary application, which is where I would rather focus my attention.
Dave goes on to say that we cannot ignore issues that stare us in the face. But, take the fuel crisis as an example, in our church you can count the number of cars in our church on the fingers of one hand! It isn’t a major issue for most of our people on a personal level. We also have a tram system that doesn’t run on petrol. These things aren’t necessarily as prominent for us as they might be for others.
What about those for whom this is a concern? If our passage on Sunday might rightly be applied to panic buying at petrol stations, I would say something about it so far as it concerns our people. But I’m not really sure that Revelation 19 is specifically concerned with that particular issue nor is there an obvious primary application, unless we want to argue that not being able to get petrol is like some sort of worldly persecution for following Christ and we ought to endure for him in the face of that particular trial. But I don’t want to argue that because it is forced and/or not really true.
I have spoken, at various points, about people’s asylum claims and the various world governments – in our own country and the others from countries represented in the room – inasmuch as they pertain to what our passage is about. It isn’t often that one can refer to America as the Great Satan in a sermon and for that to be directly and specifically relevant, not only to the passage but also to dozens of people in the room, but I have done that lately. I have referenced current events in Iran, Afghanistan, America, Europe and Britain at various points. But only so far as they have been relevant to the passage we were in. There have been various crises and issues that caused a media frenzy that I haven’t mentioned because, so far as the passage we are looking at is concerned, they had nothing to do with what we were looking at.
Some might say this approach is a bit leaden. Surely, when things crop up we want to address them? Doesn’t the Bible speak to us in relevant ways? And, of course it does. I just happen to operate on the principle that the Lord knows better what we need than anyone else.
I would far rather allow the Word to dictate what we preach than world events. Such as the Word – as we systematically preach it – has something particularly to say to world, national or local events, I have no problem addressing them. But if we happen to be looking at the criteria for eldership that week as part of an ongoing series in 1 Timothy or we are looking at the formation of the early church in Acts 2, I’m just not sure shoehorning in stuff about the Suez Canal being blocked or a lack of HGV drivers is directly relevant. And I take that to mean, in his sovereignty, the Lord has something else important he wants us to be thinking about that week because what we are reading doesn’t address those cultural concerns or current affairs.
The other thing that bears saying here is that much of this boils down to expectation. I would do a Christmas Day sermon on Christmas Day because that is precisely what everyone coming to church would expect. And that is not an unreasonable expectation. In that case, it would be especially weird not to speak about the coming to Christ into the world when we’re going to be doing stuff all day specifically because Christ came into the world. And, recognising the previous point above, that is precisely what we schedule in well ahead of time. The reading lined up for that morning coincides, but it is planned that way well ahead of time.
But most weeks of the year, our people do not expect sermons that will address every cultural concern or piece of current affairs. They expect the sermons to follow the passage that we had the week before. They expect us to work our way through a book of the Bible and, when we have done that, to move onto the next one. So, it isn’t at all weird when I fail to reference the fuel crisis or Brexit or whatever because most people have no come to church asking, ‘what does this passage have to say about the latest Trade Union strike?’ Rather, most people come asking, ‘what does this next bit of the book have to say to me?’ My concern is less about speaking to current affairs and more with speaking to the affairs of our people as the book we are going through systematically speaks to those things.
Does that mean that sometimes I might reference current affairs? Yes. Sometimes the passage will concern the very stuff going on around us. It may have specific thing to say about particular situations unfolding in our country or locality. But more often, it has some other things to say to us that don’t directly concern those things. The Lord, on those occasions, obviously has more important things to say, despite what we might reckon to matter at the moment.
So, I don’t tend to preach on current affairs or things that loom large in the mind. I often don’t reference those things at all. Instead, we let the passage that the Lord, in his sovereignty, has put before us that week speak to us in whatever way He intends it to speak to us. The Lord speaks, we listen and we hear what he would have us hear, whatever else happens to be going on.