How to Preach the News without Drowning

Drowning. Image by madamepsychosis via Flickr; licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

“Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household … This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the LORD.” – Exodus 12:3, 11

On the tenth of the month, long ago — in the midst of a time of turmoil; in the midst of political oppression; in the midst of plagues, war, death, and disease — the LORD told the people of Israel to gird up their loins. To keep their sandals on. To stand with staff in hand. To eat hurriedly. For the Passover of the LORD was near, and they were to be prepared.

It is not the tenth of the month, nor is it long ago; but it is certainly a time of turmoil. It is definitely a time of political oppression. It is absolutely a time of plague, war, death, and disease — and the message from the Lord to you, Working Preacher, is the same:

Be prepared.

The incidents which cry out for a Word to be preached just keep rolling in as of late:

And it feels like the hits just keep on coming.

Of course, the truth of the matter is, the hits will always keep on coming. To quote another well-known verse, “There is nothing new under the sun.” It is an unfortunate truth that the times our congregations most need us to preach a word that is calm, well-reasoned, and thought-through are the times when we ourselves are the most taxed to be able to do so. Times of national grief; times of shock and horror; times of division, hatred, racism, sexism, suspicion. These hit us personally and emotionally as much as our parishioners — perhaps even more so; for beyond the shock and pain is the awareness that we will be looked to speak a Word on the trauma of the day, to interpret it in the light of Scripture and tradition.

For we are called to preach. And how many of us would give our eyeteeth in those moments for one more day/week/month to adjust to the shockwave before having to preach on it? Not just for ourselves, but for the sake of our congregations: none of us is at our best when we are simply trying to react.

A year ago I attended a training for pastoral staff on how to be resilient, one of the new favorite buzz words that’s floating around. The presenter, Verlyn Hemmen, Director of the Allina Health Metro Hospitals Spiritual Care and Pastoral Education Department, defined resilience as “the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change,” and “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape — to bounce back — after being subjected to adversity or stress.”

Do not hear this as a call for us as preachers and leaders to stuff our emotions, pull a stiff upper lip, and white-knuckle through our own needs so that we can help everyone else with theirs in a time of crises. That is neither what I’m saying, nor particularly helpful or healthful for us or for our congregations.

What I am saying is one of the things Dr. Hemmen said to us one year ago: A key component in being resilient is being proactive. “Viewing impossible problems as opportunities;” “anticipating setbacks;” “collaborating with others.”

We pastors get told so often what we need to be better at and so rarely are given the opportunity to do so. Well … what if we were to help each other get a little more resilient … right now?

There will be another scandal. There will be another disaster. There will be another terrible moment of plague, war, death, disease. So what if we were to take a few moments over this next week and think through, very briefly, what we would like to be able to say when the moment happens? What difference might it make for us, for our communities, and for our preaching if we were to jot down the things we see now from a distance that might come in handy for us in the actual moment?

Use the comment space below for ideas about disasters that might come and ways to address them. Brainstorm in your Facebook groups about what other people know or suspect or anticipate that you should know too. Take 20 minutes and talk with your text study about what is likely to happen in your immediate area. If it’s an imagined situation you know first-hand, share with others what might be helpful. If it’s an imagined situation that’s beyond your ability to know how to act, what could you ask from others who might be closer to a place of knowledge? Use each other, support each other, lean on each other for ideas and wisdom and advice.

For the turmoil is brewing. The floods are rising. Loins girded, sandals on, staff in hand, Working Preacher: the world will need your preaching.