Considering how many Christians follow the liturgical calendar, the media seem not to get it. In a news environment that seeks change and conflict, the liturgical calendar is a constant. Each year, liturgical congregations -- which include, Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran churches -- work through every major part of the Holy Bible and the story of salvation accomplished through Jesus Christ's life, death and resurrection. The church has, through tradition, assigned Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel readings that are to be read to the congregation. Each week also has its own Psalm and other liturgical elements unique to the day. The sermon is built around these readings.
Keep that in mind as you read this Los Angeles Times report of Barack Obama's visit to a church yesterday:
Barack Obama began his campaign day in Eau Claire, Wis., surprising most of the congregation at the town's First Lutheran Church by attending service there. But Pastor John Kerr had been tipped that his listeners might include the almost-official Democratic presidential nominee, and he was ready with an on-point message.
Obama brought his own Bible and settled into an aisle seat in the fourth row. Kerr's then offered as his first reading Romans 12:1-8 -- which preaches humility.
Indeed, according to pool reporter John Broder of the New York Times, Kerr summarized its thrust as counseling against cockiness because one is a good singer or public speaker. And the passage urges one "not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned."
In his 13-minute sermon, Kerr refrained from any mention of Obama or politics.
Um, no, the pastor didn't include Romans 12: 1-8 as his "first" (first?) reading because he'd been tipped off that Obama might attend. I'd be willing to wager that the pastor follows a three-year lectionary. Some congregations, like mine, follow a one-year calendar. Others use a three-year cycle so that you repeat the readings every three years. Anyway, it just so happens that the first year of the three-year lectionary lists the following readings for August 24, the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Is. 51:1-6 Psalm 138 Rom. 11:33-12:8 Matt. 16:13-20
Liturgical calendars are created precisely to help pastors avoid preaching on whims or fancies that may detract from the overall message of Christ and his crucifixion. And while I'm sure any pastor and congregation would be excited to have Barack Obama or any other major political figure in their midst, sermons aren't supposed to be composed for one individual. Lutherans believe that the Romans passage applies to everyone, not just high-profile members of the day's congregation.
I know that reporters like to think that everything is about politics. But some things are more important than politics.