It is not easy to preach the gospel of God under such circumstances.
There are others who seek to address such crises in community life: mayors, governors, and presidents are public representatives who articulate the convictions of many. So do poets, artists, and musicians. Writers take up pen for newspapers, television, and all sorts of social media.
But none of these, as timely and helpful as they are, displaces the preacher who opens the Bible, mines the tradition, searches her heart, and weaves these various strands of gospel into that ancient-modern fabric that we call faith.
Such occasions bring into the preacher‘s sphere of influence many people who have never opened a Bible and knelt in prayer. They come to support, to grieve, to search, and yes, to pray. Often they come with open minds and open hearts. Sometimes something the preacher says sticks. I think of the vagabond photographer Peter Jenkins and his walk across American in 1973, described in two articles in National Geographic magazine. “I was looking for myself and my country,” he said, “and I found both.” He also found something else when he stumbled into a tent revival meeting in Mobile, Alabama, and was converted.
Trauma is tragedy, but it is often also a turning point: into despair and death or into hope and life. And often at the intersection of these futures stands the preacher, with the newspaper (or smart phone) in one hand and the Bible in the other, connecting the sorrow of God with the pain of the world, reading the stories of redemption that run throughout the Bible, voicing for saint and sinner alike the purposes of God for life on planet earth.
This is the social significance of preaching: not all of it, but one slice of that large vocational pie. Preachers also gather communities, mobilize volunteers, teach the Bible, agitate for justice, lead the people in prayer and praise, and keep alive the stories of Jesus, crucified, risen, and alive. All of these shape the people who listen into citizens of this world and also of the next.
It is a great calling, even when it comes embedded in such agony. “We have this treasure,” wrote a preacher long ago, “in common clay pots to show that the surpassing power belongs to God” (2 Corinthians 4:7, paraphrased).
Dwight A Moody
October 7, 2015