Preaching After the Unthinkable
In that moment, I had to ask myself that question: Is there any possibility that I, limited as I am, can have anything significant to say to all these different people? The answer, humanly speaking, is no. It's nonsense. But I have implicit faith in the efficacy of the Word of God. I believe that preaching is God's method. I believe that preaching releases the innately powerful Word of God, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, in a community of people. And that's why I do it.
We go out sowing seeds, and somebody comes along and waters them, but only God makes things grow.
How much pastoral care can you really give from the pulpit to people who are grieving or traumatized?
Well, I understand that my sermon can't address personal grief in great detail. From the pulpit, I can speak about our shared time and place: their loved one's life, this funeral.
Since a funeral usually isn't long after the death, people are still experiencing what I call divine numbness. I was talking to the bereaved at Jennifer's service, and asked them, "Do you have a sense of numbness? And do you have a sense of being 'held'?" They all said yes. I've seen this over and over again.
I said, "What I need to warn you about is that this will be like going to the dentist. He numbs the gum and you're glad for that with all the drilling that's going on. But later, that numbness wears off. The next couple weeks will be harder for you."
In the past, I've mentioned that in an actual funeral service from the pulpit. That's appropriate. In the past I have also covered the various stages of grief in the sermon. But I don't get into a long explanation about it.
I do believe that you can really engage in pastoral ministry from a funeral pulpit. I think all pastoral ministry starts in the pulpit. For me, that's where the pastoral work begins.
What's the role of the pastor in a time of tragedy?
To talk about Jesus. But to do it carefully, tastefully. In a natural way, an un-sanctimonious way. In terms that the man on the street appreciates. Our role is to show the relevance of Jesus in this crisis.
I talk about the story of redemption: creation, fall, and restoration. A lot of people say that makes sense. The message that I bring is not that God is in the business of making everything all right for everyone. Rather, God is in the business of turning this rotten, fallen world round so that eventually he'll make all things new. That's what's going to happen. In moments like these, people resist superficial language and ideas. But they will listen when you say that there is something fundamentally wrong here, but that God is into the change business.
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