As I was finalizing my sermon last Sunday, I paused to listen to the George Zimmerman verdict. It was at this moment that I experienced how quickly a good sermon can become irrelevant.
Nothing I had prepared to say would have adequately connected the sermon to the painful reality that George Zimmerman, who shot and killed an unarmed 17-year-old African American teen, was being set free.
He was not only being set free. He was given back the gun that he used to shoot Trayvon Martin.
How do we preach during troubled times? If the preacher is to bring good news during troubled times, he or she must adjust to the times. He or she must understand that preaching is a responsibility and the sermon should reflect that we take the responsibility serious.
The preacher has a responsibility to bring the truths of God to bear upon the resounding issues of the day. For me to have continued developing the sermon idea that I had so diligently prepared would have been irresponsible.
I would have ignored the fact that most of the people in the audience, particularly young people, came to church with the Zimmerman verdict foremost on their minds. It would have been like I was providing commentary for football while the people were watching baseball.
Telling people to “put your minds on the things of God” would have been insufficient, if I did not make relevant the things of God to the Zimmerman verdict.
For one, rarely does the preacher have a moment in history when so much is at stake. The Zimmerman verdict places before our congregation the continuing legacy of injustice, the diminished value of Black life, the terrifying trauma of gun violence, the eroding fabric of healthy community, and the impotence of many of our theological assumptions.
It is the Zimmerman-like moments in history that makes an Isaiah, a Jeremiah, a Micah, an Amos, or even a Jonah relevant. I would suggest that the preacher carefully consider at least one aspect of the Zimmerman drama and provide the people with a clearly delineated Christian response.
The preacher could use the Zimmerman verdict as an opportunity to heighten the value of young Black life. Jesus’ words to “love one another,” or his touching compassion for children, provides the preacher with scriptural opportunities to make loving our children a critical concern.
Moreover, to allow our children a moment within the worship to experience our love and collective compassion would do much to comfort them. Matthew’s drama around Jesus’ birth provides another scenario where the preacher can highlight the at-risk nature of Black males in America.
The sermon could embolden the church to be as attentive as Joseph in assuring the safety of at-risk Black males.
In brevity, the preacher cannot ignore the Zimmerman verdict and engage in sermonic business as usual. We have a moment to regain the relevance of the pulpit when we preach responsibly during troubled times.