I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how to preach without being political. When the latest tragedy: be it gun violence, a natural disaster or the latest racist incident comes to pass I can’t not address it. Just picking the text for the day is a political act. Am I contending with the racism overtones of Ezra? Or dealing with the deep depression that seems to be part and parcel of the Psalms? Then there are the holidays. Do we mention the national holiday of Father’s Day, or that it’s Mental Illness Month or that its a socio-politically charged holiday of Independence Day and the like?
I once had a congregant call me to request that I never ever preach on politics. I had to work hard not to laugh in response. What should I preach on then? The joke about Trinity Sunday is an apt one. Want to preach an unoffensive and theologically sound sermon? The clear solution is to not preach at all and to instead show cute photos of puppies and kittens.
In response to this congregant, I tried to explain that my job was to make church a safe place to discuss different hopes, theologies and beliefs. That if we made a church where we couldn’t discuss sex, drugs, rock and roll and politics then we weren’t really doing much.
And sometimes I do preach the equivalent of puppies and kittens, I talk about the beauty of the earth or I preach a feel good sermon about what it is the church is doing today. But that choice is a political choice as much as writing a prophetic social justice sermon is. And hopefully, at least, my sermons provide a wide range of topics and conversations. And hopefully, above all else, my sermon makes you think about you and your relationships: your relationships with yourself, others, and God. Because there are few places that invite you to actively think and work on all of those relationships at once (therapy is a little bit different in goals).
I can safely say, I have never preached a sermon free of politics, but I seldom start or end there. Typically my sermon is about preaching the good news of God’s love. Usually I talk about how God wants us to live out that counter-cultural, hope-filled, empire-breaking, relationship-building good news. It’s a job that requires real work, grit and there’s no guarantee of it ending well.
Even my being in the pulpit is political. I’ll never forget a mother and her little girl of about 8 dashing out right before Christmas Eve worship and overhearing the mother say We don’t believe in women pastors? and the little girl asking Why? as they exited the building.
I am aware that I am white person of the Xiennial generation, I am heterosexual, heck I’m cis-straight and married and a mom of three children. These things will always be true, and I cannot divorce myself from these realities. I am also the mother of a child with autism, and the sister of trans-woman. Can I read the gospel without these contexts barging into my interpretation?
No, and our God is contextual God. One who promises to be present and active no matter where we are or who we are. The good news is the good news for my context, and preaching is an exercising my belief that God’s love applies to me, and to everyone. That my God is also the God of my Pakistani congregant, and my African American one. That God is dreaming dreams with the Silent generation, just as God is dreaming dreams with the children. Because when we pray Your Kingdom Come we are praying for fundamental change in our political reality.
I preach political sermons, because my God is in politics, in the nitty gritty debates about campaign funding, and housing costs and healthcare and gun control. It is not my right to put my politics or religion upon anyone else, but it is my responsibility to believe that even in politics God is at work.
And if God is at work in the politics of the nations, surely that means God is at work at my church, and hopefully this means the Holy Spirit is at work in my attempt to preach the good news.
Our God is present even in all of this, thanks be to God.
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY for over eight years and blogs at firstname.lastname@example.org She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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