Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Church in the World: Gospel in One Hand, Newspaper in the Other

This was week one of my Lenten sermon series "The Church in the World" and it was one of the two that I had the most misgivings about.  The other is the third in the series where the tag is "IN but not OF the World" (the other two tags are "Witness & Testimony" and "Wealth & Poverty").

To start off the series I thought I would reflect on Karl Barth's dictum that theology needs to be done with the Gospel in one hand and the Newspaper in the other (mind you I think the current formulation of that dictum would talk about browser windows rather than documents--and include alternate media sources as well as recognized news sources).  You can read where I thought I would go at this link.

Up until late in the week I was not entirely sure there was a sermon in this topic, a talk/lecture for sure but a sermon?  What would really happen on Sunday?  (The sermon was recorded and assuming the recorder worked properly the podcast will be posted tomorrow or Tuesday).

As it turned out I think it went quite well.  Maybe not a masterpiece but not terrible either.  It helped that when I asked why it was important to do what Barth suggests the three answers that were called out were "because they connect" "vision" and "relevance" -- which was exactly where I was planning on going.

We need to keep the two hands (or two browser windows) so that we keep our faith grounded in, speaking to, and connected with the world in which we live and serve.  Even more, one of the Barth quotes I found said that we need to interpret the world's stories through the lens of the Gospel.  [For the record I think that in the end the interpretive task goes both ways--world through Gospel and Gospel through world.]  This gave me the link to vision.  We read the stories of the world, (from a variety of sources, preferably both sources we agree with and ones we find troublesome) and ask where the Gospel is present or missing.  Then we ask where/how God is speaking to those stories and how God would have us respond.  Filling in that last question gives us our vision, our calling, the place we apply/live out our faith.  I think it all came together.

A final thought, one I also mused about this morning.  I think the task Barth sets out was in some ways easier in his context.  Barth lived and worked long before the advent of the 24 hour news cycle.  Journalism was different then, stories were often more complete before they were broken, journalists had more time to fact-check (with some notable exceptions--"Dewey Defeats Truman" comes to mind).  And also there was not the plethora of sources, mixed blessing that that is.  More sources now means we get more chances to have different points of view.  It also means it is harder to have a clear sense of what the news is. 

What do you think?  Was Barth right?  How do you live out his challenge?

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