Preaching in the middle of a crisis

Over the last couple of days, I ran a little survey on twitter asking people when was the last time they’d heard pastors addressing specific contemporary issues.  You can see the results here and I’m planning to share a few articles later this week with further analysis and discussion of them.

One thing that came up during the discussion around the polls was whether seeking to be contemporary in our application could lead to us being driven by the media news cycle and whether or not that was right. Well, I think there is something in that concern. Our teaching and preaching should be shaped and directed by God’s Word. That’s why I prefer to see preaching that works through a book of the Bible. Generally speaking, I would avoid the temptation to stop and change the sermon because of circumstances. However, I’d want to add two things. The first is that we don’t need to work at making scripture relevant. It cannot help but speak to the situations we find ourselves in this morning.  So often I’ve found myself having to explain that I did not deliberately choose a passage and topic for the day, it’s simply where we’d arrived at in the series.

Secondly, writing from the UK today. I would suggest that we cannot ignore the issue that is staring us in the face. This morning, a lot of people will arrive at church on the back of a harrowing Saturday spent on the filling station forecourt trying to get petrol. Others will have chosen not to. They’ll have seen the media headlines or driven past the chaos and decided not to attempt to refuel.  There will be people with you today who will be anxious because they do not know if they will have enough fuel to get to work this week and others worrying about getting to hospital appointments or what will happen if there’s an emergency and the ambulance cannot get out. There are others who will not have made it to the in person meeting who intended to and so will be watching on zoom or Facebook.  Surely as pastors we have something to say. Here are the kind of things I would be raising.

The first is that we actually have something to say about how we listen to the media. The reality is that the full blown crisis we descended into yesterday was fuelled by an irresponsible media. They leaked comments from a lobby meeting between BP and the government about potential fuel rationing. They stoked the flames so that we moved from a situation where there were logistical challenges at a few stations because of driver shortages to panic buying causing queues and shortages across the country as the pumps ran dry.  Like Pharoah’s magicians who could turn staffs into snakes but not back again, the media know how to create a crisis but not how to calm it when it gets out of control.  Simply to remind people this morning that there is only one place where we can find true truth, peace and hope is important.

Secondly, we might want to talk about truth itself. As I wrote about a week or so ago, we are currently experiencing supply chain issues on a range of goods and services.  We cannot pretend that those issues aren’t there but also, we need to be alert to the self-fulfilling prophecy of exaggerating the other way. Furthermore, we need to beware the temptation to turn the issue into a tribal political matter with simplistic explanations and condemnations.  It is over simplistic to blame everything on COVID-19. Other countries are not experiencing the same issues that we are – though they are experiencing their own.  Yet it is also not truthful to blame this on Brexit and therefore to accuse those who voted for Brexit of voting for these things.

It is clear that part of the issue is a shortage of specific workers including HGV drivers and those who work in processing. Some are missing because of self-isolation, others because of training being paused but a lot because we were dependent upon cheaper labour provided by migrant workers coming through the EU and some have chosen to leave following Brexit whilst others have not been able to get visas under the new regime. That doesn’t mean Brexit is the cause. It’s possible to opt out of a political and economic treaty without making that an immigration issue and its possible to consider the point that we might be over dependent upon cheap labour. However, I’m starting to stray into the politics here and that’s probably not something for your sermon!  The point is that we should not let truth become the first casualty of a crisis.

Thirdly, today provides a good opportunity to remind our church family of who Jesus is. This weekend we have seen our world shaken. We have been reminded that we cannot depend upon governments and companies.  We are living once more in anxious and uncertain times. What do I want to do today? I want to point people to Christ the rock. As that rock he does two things. First of all, he offers us a firm foundation that will not be shaken. Secondly, just as the Exodus story tells us of the rock that provided water and honey for the people, so, Jesus is the one who offers living water that unlike our petrol supplies will never run dry.