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Thoughts on Preaching in the Aftermath of Boston

Stock rainfall

This morning I awakened to the sound of rainfall.

As in many other parts of the country right now, heavy rain and falling temperatures are predicted as the day progresses. Usually I love waking to the sounds of rain, which usually lulls me back to sleep.

But this morning I was restless. So I turned to my second favorite sound: NPR.

Unfortunately, though, the news of the morning was not soothing.

My usual morning NPR buffet of human interest stories, technological breakthroughs and economic ups/downs were preempted by the breaking story of the Boston lockdown and a massive manhunt in Watertown.

“People in Watertown are being told to stay indoors with their doors and windows locked and to answer only to the police,” the newscaster gravely announced.

This was followed by details from overnight events in the Boston and Cambridge area as local and federal law agents pursued the suspects from Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing.

Next up in the news report was the latest on the fertilizer plant explosion yesterday in West, Texas, and the growing list of missing people and casualties.

Third, the announcer covered the story of the Mississippi father with mental health issues who mailed ricin-tainted envelopes to the president and at least one senator.

Lastly, there was a report on the latest suicide bombing that killed at least 30 people in a Baghdad café.

After hearing all of this, there was no lulling me back to sleep. I needed to write something for those who are tasked with preaching this Sunday morning.

We've posted resources this week for dealing with grief, terror and tragedy, but I hadn’t felt a need to offer any sermon advice before now.

As I thought about what to write I was reminded of the Sunday after 9/11.

One of the lectionary readings for that day was from the fourth chapter of Jeremiah. It relates his vision of the earth becoming “waste and void,” the mountains and hills quaking, and birds fleeing.

In his prophetic vision the cities were laid bare by earthquake, the people killed or taken captive in a subsequent invasion. All the creativity, order and harmony of the land would be destroyed. Jeremiah’s heart was heavy considering the suffering, devastation and judgment to be visited upon his people.

I was a young preacher. I didn’t know what to say the Sunday after 9/11. Nor did I know how to deal with the lectionary readings that included Jeremiah’s vision.

Like many others, I preached from the assigned Jeremiah text, wrestling with the consequences of sin.

The next day I received an email from a young woman, an ER doctor, who had come to church that day seeking solace. She had never been to our church before, and she never returned. But she emailed me.

On the Sunday after 9/11 she sought refuge at the nearest church to her. She came to find comfort and hope – not to wrestle with the theological implications of terror and tragedy.

In her email, she said the first rule of the ER is to bind wounds and stop the bleeding. She had come to church that post-9/11 Sunday to have her emotional wounds bound; instead, I had inflicted further pain.

I’ve never forgotten that email or the sermon that prompted it. I've reflected on it since. Perhaps she was right: I should’ve bound up the wounds first. As preachers, we wrestle with the scriptures, what to say about them and how people respond.

Now, I think about this coming Sunday. Do we bind the wounds of our people first, or do we confront the evil present in the world?

Our neighbors are not just the people who live next door but also those who live across the globe.

An act of terrorism at the Boston Marathon – apolitical and international in participation – is hard for Americans to comprehend. We like to imagine our public spaces are safe for innocent bystanders and children. Yet this kind of event happens every day in many parts of the world.

The story about 30 people dying at a café in Baghdad on Thursday was the fourth or fifth story on the list. It wasn’t given much attention because it happened “over there to them.” The people on the other side of the planet sadly have come to expect terror bombings in their daily lives.

Should we bind our wounds this Sunday as we preach? Perhaps. But let’s not ignore that our denomination is a global community. Our neighbors are not just the people who live next door but also those who live across the globe. We should not expect to be exempt from the suffering so many of our brothers and sisters of the world face every day.

It’s still pouring rain as I write. It may flood here in my little town or somewhere near or far. We live on.

As bearers of the good news of Jesus Christ, we must find a way to bring hope for transformation not just to our own people but to the whole world.

We must find ways to preach on behalf of ALL of God’s children if we are to work for the salvation of the people of this earth.

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