On Sunday evening I went to hear an advertised sermon on the theology and geology of the (Christchurch) earthquake, to be delivered by Matt Watts, Vicar of St. Timothy's, Burnside, Christchurch. Matt's first degree is in geology and second degree is in theology. Normally I do not comment directly on an identified sermon, but in this case I feel emboldened to do so for three reasons: it was a widely advertised sermon, some 120+ people responded (that's my personal estimate), many of whom were from parishes other than Burnside, and I will not be critiquing it per se (but let me assure you it was very good!)
From a general preaching perspective these learnings struck me as worth sharing here:
(1) Sometimes events provide an opportunity to do something a little different with our preaching. In this instance the difference was (a) feeling able to advertise widely (and this being an evening service, it was not particularly 'competitive' of what was happening in Christchurch parishes as most do not have an evening services), (b) transforming the sermon (as a talk within a service) into an extended talk which, with a extensive time for questions, constituted the whole of the evening programme.
(2) Some events are well worth engaging with in a direct, public, lengthy and extra well prepared manner. The content of Matt's talk clearly involved him in much more preparation than an ordinary weekly sermon: aside from the theological preparation, and the writing of a well structured, very thoughtful address, some excellent geological slides accompanied the talk. They would have taken quite a bit of time to find (I imagine) - some were taken from a recent lecture by a Canterbury University geologist, so some emailing must have gone back and forth re accessing those slides! The talk itself was some 45 minutes in duration - longer than many 'ordinary' sermons. What other events, similar in public impact to a destructive earthquake, would be worth engaging in with similar preparation and publicity?
(3) Presuming to advertise widely that one is going to preach on public matters of the day requires appropriate prior learning and/or experience. I felt drawn to attend because Matt was going to speak on geology and theology as a geologist and as a theologian. Frankly, if I had prepared such a talk (as a non-geologist), would I have bothered to go? Probably not, because the missing element of authenticity would be my inability to speak about the geology of the earthquake with authority. Ditto if say (to take another issue or two) I advertised a sermon on 'How the war in Afghanistan should be conducted' or 'What the Bible says about resolving the economic problems of the world today.' As a preacher wrestling with the meaning of the Bible today I am entitled to preach on such subjects, but I do not think I would be entitled to expect a larger than usual attendance from the wider public when I have no additional expertise to bring to the issues than any other preacher.
(4) Sometimes opportunities present themselves to say something urgent, relevant, and of great interest about a matter of the day. Let's not miss those opportunities!