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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Preaching on National Holidays

Notes on Preaching the Gospel on National Holidays

Great preaching opportunities are often ignored on national holidays. Wedded to the lectionary for the Sunday of a holiday weekend, many preachers fail to use the theme of the national day. Some sense that the secularization of some of these days makes it unworthy for use in the church. Certainly Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are seen as sentimental and slushy. But what an opportunity is given to preach on motherhood on Mother’s Day. The Virgin Mother, the Mother of God, the female gods of antiquity, the struggle for women’s rights and Mother Earth and Motherland are just a few themes that would deepen the concept of motherhood beyond the banalities of the Hallmark Card Mother’s Day sentimentality.

So also Father’s Day provides splendid ideas for preachers. The fatherhood of God, the creator God, rising resentment among women that they are left out of the fatherhood concept. Our Father, Dear Lord and Father, what it feels like to be a father, the responsibilities of fatherhood, absentee fathers, deadbeat fathers, divorced father figures, male priests as father.

The preacher needs to include stories of his own experience with "father," or mother," the lessons he or she has learned about the true nature of love and the Gospel's demand.

Independence Day has propers for that day which could easily be used on the Sunday nearest that Fourth of July. Lots of preaching ideas here. Freedom in Christ, church and state, independence as individuals and as a nation, national responsibility as reflected in the Old Testament prophets. Nationhood vs. Imperialism.

Valentine's Day, a day for lovers and for considering the nature of true love and the special demands of agape love. Certainly a way of speaking of the deeper meanings of love than the treakly doileyd redness of the holiday cards.

Presidents’ Week in February. Themes of leadership, character, integrity. A look at the idea of the divine right of kings versus elected leadership. Royals and presidents have the charge to look after the poor and needy. The privilege and right to vote. President brings war and/or peace.

Memorial Day brings the issue of death, sacrifice and the meaning of life as the country remembers the war dead as well as the civilians who died and more who mourn as the aftermath of war. The Gettysburg Address could be a reading for the Sunday of or nearest Memorial Day.

Labor Day presents the church and country with the need for people to act in unity for decent wages, safety in the work place, protection of children, health care and pensions. The Labor Union Movement is often forgotten or derided in our land. Their contribution to the welfare of all working people can never be overestimated.

Election Day. This is the day when God’s people participate in their own governance in this country. We literally can stand up and be counted and take a stand for what we think is right and which persons and issues reflect our basic values. What is God calling us to be and do?

Veterans’ Day can be celebrated regarding the military as peacekeepers rather than warriors. A strong military brings the possibility of peace. The church needs to remind the military of the importance of their roles as peacekeepers.

The Book of Common Prayer, the lectionary and the Hymnal are full of prayers, lessons and music that reflect our national interests.

Visitors to an Episcopal Church may view us as divorced from reality if the subject on each person's mind is not mentioned in the sermon.

Preachers can see in these national holidays the issues and values that are important to our people and that are presented to the people by our governments. In a time when it is difficult to catch people’s attention these national concerns are powerful place where we can reflect on the relationship of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the world in which we live.
Preachers can move these holidays from a simple-minded patriotism to a deep love of our country and compassion for all as reflected in the life of Jesus.

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