In a new post to his (to me newly discovered) blog, Bp. William Willimon speaks to the task of preaching – the issue of addressing culture, of adapting to the needs and wishes of the wide world in crafting the interpretation of scripture. And he draws a critical distinction between “speaking to culture” and “converting it.” Speaking to culture allows the spheres outside the world of the Bible to determine the relevance and meaning of any text; it does ultimate disservice to both the Bible and to culture by losing the saving word (perhaps “repent!”?) that scripture carries and that culture needs.
But the hearers of that proclamation are people who should be struggling to grow in the faith – not just find some happy thought to carry them through the week in the daily affairs that are otherwise untouched by the reality of God. As my study of Matthew is making clear to me, preaching is more than saying “Jesus loves me, you, us” over and over again. That claim needs content. And the content is determined by the Word-made-flesh, not by the latest newspaper headline (which in
Preaching the word of God as it is presented (in many traditions, anyway) week-by-week in the lectionary, with a little less worry for how it might square with the questions of the world and a little more attention to what it means in its own context and in the history of its interpretation throughout the history of the Church just might be what the world really needs to hear. And if it doesn’t want to hear what God has to say, well, the Bible has some things to say about that, too.