Cultural Hot Topics and the Pulpit

Timothy Merrill, executive editor of the magazine Homiletics, urged pastors last week to scrap their preaching plans for May 22 so they could take advantage of a historic moment. What moment was that you ask? Well, the rush to see and discuss “The Revenge of the Sith,” George Lucas’ third film in the newer version Star Wars films. Merrill noted that it was a Jedi night at theatres around the country late last week, as Stars fans lined up to see the movie, some late into the evening.

Merrill wrote this in his online advice column:

“I’ll get to the point: Seize this opportunity! If you have kids in your church who put on robes, makeup, and grabbed light sabers and waited in line for hours to see the opening show, talk to them today. Ask them to dress up and be at church Sunday. Ask them to bring their dressed up friends. Ask them to write a skit–quickly. Talk about the themes or one of the themes according to the Gospel of St. George.”

Merrill then suggested the following:

“If you have the courage or inclination–dress up as Obi-wan Kenobi or another Star Wars figure yourself. Pull the hood over your head. Process with the rest of the kids. Have the keyboard player or organist play the Star Wars theme. Have a clip of Stars Wars going on the screen. Pull out the light sabers, and let the congregation hear the ‘swoosh.’”

Merrill’s counsel to ministers who preached last Sunday was quite simple:

“Begin a discussion about the difficulties of staying true, honest, and good. Let the congregation talk back. Work with the kids first. If you were planning to preach something else this Sunday, scrap it, or postpone it. Jump on this opportunity now. I realize that for some of you, this is NOT something that your congregation would be remotely interested in. No worries. I am not saying this is for everyone. But a lot of us let the culture catch us by surprise, and there’s a perfect sermon or spiritual life application lesson staring us in the face, and we don’t ‘get it’ until it’s too late.”

Sunday, May 22, at least on the church calendar, was Trinity Sunday, traditionally a time to preach about one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith. But a leading journals on modern preaching suggests that the big event last Sunday was really Star Wars, a film of popular cultural interest, albeit a film of purported poor script and fairly silly dialogue (see John Podhoretz’s review, “Star Wars VI: Naboo, Dooku, and a Mission to the Wookies,” in The Weekly Standard, May 23, 2005).

One must wonder what the church calendar will look like with these new approaches. Evangelicals have already built a great deal of “liturgy” around Hallmark days (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.) and national holidays like the Fourth of July and Labor Day. If you add Star Wars to the plan sheet, as well as other popular events in the culture like Super Bowl Sunday, before long we will have a full-blown church calendar that is about as relevant as the last new movie, the big sports event, or best-selling talk book. Pretty amazing stuff this homiletic advice. There is a small problem however. We could gain the culture and loose our collective soul if we are not careful.

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