I’ve read with great discomfort today as many Religious Right leaders have come out to connect the Newtown massacre to their pet issues of gay marriage, abortion and school prayer. Many preachers still have to take a theological lesson from the incarnation. The Advent Sunday of Joy, this last Sunday, has a lot to teach us about our pulpits. While you can’t get complete joy in this, you have to think about hope that may slowly emerge when we reflect on the the incarnation. Perhaps we need to step back to the first candle of hope and retrace our steps, since we aren’t quite ready for joy. Yet, for some, the pulpit is the turret from which the preacher fires his cannon shots. They call it the prophetic voice. I call it emotional abuse. From the perspective of the incarnation, the pulpit is the opposite of the cannon turret.
When we look at the harshest preaching of Jesus and the most influential apostle Paul, it was directed at the religious community, whether to some of the hypocritical religious leaders or to its own community, rather than to those “lost sinners.” It was not pointing a condemning finger at the non-religious world. We seem to have the order flipped around these days.
From the Newtown event, we need someone to tell us that this world is full of sin and evil as much as someone informing us that the earth is round. The fact is, the world has always been broken. It was not broken this weekend. When Jesus came, his world was also awful. Evil took over Herod and he killed a bunch of children while covering up the historical record so much so that critical theologians consider the entire slaughter a made-up tale. The Newtown event tells us that such evil is very possible. It also tells of a broken world, not just for the families that have lost the little ones (it still saddens me to think about it as a parent), but also for the brilliant young man who had somehow found enough madness to shoot innocent children. At this point, we do not know what triggered this young man to do such an evil thing. Was he not a normal child once much like those he killed? We live in a very broken world. The same brokenness has not gotten worse as some of the judgmental Religious Right leaders seem to have us believe. The world was always broken even when Jesus came.
So, if we’re Christians, why did Jesus come? Jesus came as God’s gesture to reach out to a broken world. When God saw all this awful stuff going on in Jesus’ time, He didn’t say, “Well, you sinful morons, let me teach you a lesson by bombing you guys.” Instead, He sent Jesus. If the incarnation teaches anything, it teaches grace. When the pulpit faces the outside, it must always show the grace of the incarnation. How many of our visitors in our church would feel grace yesterday after such a horrific weekend? Going on a rampage about pet peeve moral issues on the Advent Sunday of Joy does violence to the gospel. Sure, the pulpit can be equally harsh in its pronouncement against its own faith community the way Jesus and Paul preached against certain “insider” problems (e.g. hypocrisy, oppression and ignoring of the poor etc.). A deeper question, for which I have no answer, to ask is this. Why is the order often flipped around in many evangelical pulpits? Why do some conservative pulpits often sound so judgmental to the world while going so easy on the sins of its own faith community? THAT should be the question we ask at the moment.
I think America does not need to get right with God because it has always been a secular country. However, I think some pulpits need to get right with God this Advent. If we aren’t ready for joy, at least we can be ready for a glimmer of hope, but first we need to confront our priorities (aka our pulpit demons). Then hope and eventually (hopefully) joy will come.