Preaching in Unexpected Times

Hurricane Ike walloped Ohio. Nobody was ready for it– who would have thought a hurricane would hit Ohio?

Nobody quite knew how to react to it. Almost a million Ohioans were without power, many for up to a week. No one had stockpiled food and water; no one had stockpiled batteries for the flashlights and ice for the coolers; not nearly enough had a chainsaw in their garage to deal with the tree branches on their lawn. Ike caught us unaware and unprepared.

But I was surprised by how well people adapted to it. I heard stories of entire neighborhoods wheeling all their gas grills into the middle of a cul-de-sac, grilling up burgers and chicken before they thawed and spoiled, turning a crisis into a cook out. My own cul-de-sac was filled for days with more kids than I’d seen in the nine months since we moved there. I heard story after story about people finally getting to know their neighbor  in some cases, people who had lived side-by-side for years finally learning each other’s names.

Most of the mess was cleared up and most of the power restored by Sunday morning. As providence would have it, the lesson for that day was the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I had been looking forward to it for weeks. I had preached on the Good Samaritan for my Doctor of Ministry coursework and received a good grade, so I was excited to dust off the manuscript, bring it in, and knock one out of the park. But God had other plans that week. We had all been living the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” Now we knew who he is, what her name is, and how some of their story goes. I put my sermon back on the shelf, and instead, told the story of the neighbors and Samaritans we had met that week. It was my best-received sermon here yet.

We preachers often worry about “getting the text right,” and don’t get me wrong — I’m all for it. But the Word of God is living and active. The Word has a power all of its own, and God proclaims just the right Word through preachers like you and me — even when we’re unprepared, even in unexpected times.