During my tenure with the now dead paper, I managed to keep my day job as pastor of a local congregation. On one Sunday morning, having just preached a sermon that seemed, at least to me, to be of particular profundity, I stood at the door to the church to receive, what I was certain to be, the exuberant expressions of a grateful flock. One of the first people to meet me at the door was a faithful member who had weathered many a storm in the life of the congregation. Wise beyond his forty-some years, he shook my hand but before he let it go, he looked me in the eye and said, “The opinions and ideas expressed in this sermon do not necessarily represent the position of this congregation.”
I remembered that little confrontation with reality this week while following the enormously overwrought expressions of outrage induced by the preachings of Barack Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. By now, we all have heard one outrageous sound bite or another that sought to shock us into rejecting the retired reverend as a racist demagogue, wild-eyed fanatic or ungrateful traitor. Obama’s carefully crafted speech was a brilliant response to the outcry that, I suspect, resonated especially with congregational folk who know all about putting up with the often hyperbolic homilies of their pastors, priests, imams or rabbis.
Despite what some might think or even wish for, the sermon has a long history of causing controversy and concern among its listeners. The Hebrew Scriptures tell of the prophet Hosea who illustrated one of his sermons on the unfaithfulness of the people by going out and marrying a prostitute. You can be sure that caused a stir among the pews. Amos, another prophet from that sacred collection, shook the foundations of
I suppose it depends on your perspective, but folk who have the good fortune to have a provocative preacher (a good and my perspective) rather that someone who just dishes up pious platitudes week after week (a not-so-good and another’s perspective), are bound to be burned on occasion by bellicosity, belligerence or even bull****. The religious fervor generated between a preacher in the pulpit and the people in the pews can reach a point where carefully crafted sermons give way to plain spiritual exuberance and anything can happen.
Pastor Wright is well-known in