At anniversary of COVID closings, let’s remember the fine art of preaching
By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine
Thank God for media ministries like Day1, the program that has been sharing regular inspiration through American radio stations—and now the Internet—since the end of World War II. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, producer and host Peter Wallace and his team were well-equipped as long-time veterans in providing virtual pulpits to the most talented men and women in the fine art of preaching.
“We have been a godsend to a lot of our listeners. That’s what they are telling us in their letters and emails,” Peter said in our interview about his new book. “Our audience is primarily in the United States, but we even got a wonderful postcard from Japan the other day thanking our staff for continuing these broadcasts throughout the pandemic. The writer said he and his family haven’t been able to go to church, so they listen to Day1 to supplement their spiritual lives.”
At ReadTheSpirit, where we regularly report on Holidays, Festivals and anniversaries, we have not heard of any congregations planning to mark this historic one-year mark, but we are not certain. Perhaps someone has developed such a liturgy or planned such a service, because this really is an unprecedented milestone in religious life. For the first time in American history, thousands of churches have been closed for a year—a foundational upheaval in the way Americans’ worship that is sure to result in cascading changes for years to come.
One huge wave of changes has been fueled by media. When American churches emptied one year ago to protect their members from the pandemic, most of those congregations had little external media presence they could immediately fall back on. Out of necessity, nearly all congregations rapidly expanded their online offerings.
At this milestone, Peter Wallace’s new book, Bread Enough for All: A Day1 Guide to Life, is encouraging Americans to appreciate that one of the core spiritual practices they should celebrate and continue is that fine art of preaching.
WHO SHOULD BUY THIS BOOK?
The book is aimed, first and foremost, at ordinary readers who enjoy short, inspiring Bible-based messages, perhaps to read all at once—or to savor over weeks of day-by-day enjoyment.
But there is a second audience we want to address in this ReadTheSpirit Cover Story: the thousands of preachers, teachers and small-group leaders who regularly read our columns. This book represents a delightful opportunity to see how some of the greatest preachers of our age bring contemporary messages from the ancient biblical texts we all enjoy reading each year. This collection is a treasure trove of creativity. We bet more than a few readers will quickly grab ideas from this book to share in their own weekly Bible studies, email newsletters, church bulletins, homilies and sermons. There are just too many gems here to resist sharing a few!
WHO IS IN THIS BOOK?
To illustrate the points we are making, we decided not to include the entire table of contents from the book. Instead, we are offering below a list of the great preachers—men and women—who also have appeared in the pages of ReadTheSpirit magazine since our founding in 2007. Each one appears in this Day1 book with the title of their original on-air sermon, the Bible reference for their reflections and then an excerpt of their original on-air message.
Just look at this list! It should convince many of our readers to jump to Amazon right now and order a copy of the book. You’ll get:
Diana Butler Bass—a best-selling author, historian and educator—has appeared many times in our ReadTheSpirit pages. She preaches this new book’s title message, “Bread Enough for All” from John 6:35, 41-51 Then, Peter Wallace brings her back later in the book for a second sermon, “The Power of Today” from Luke 4:14-21.
Bishop Michael Curry also is one of the few preachers who appears twice in the book with “Keep the Faith” from Hebrews 10:32-11:1 and “The King of Love” from John 18:33-37.
Best-selling author and educator Barbara Brown Taylor appears with “The Prophet Mary” from John 12:1-8.
Pastor and standup comic Susan Sparks gives us “Trust Jesus and Elvis,” based on John 20:19-31.
Bishop William H. Willimon preaches “Good News?” from Mark 10:35-45
Beloved author and Celtic theologian John Philip Newell offers “Look to the Child,” drawing on Luke 2:1-14.
Bishop Kenneth Carter preaches “Our Patience, God’s Peace” from Isaiah 40:1-11
The late William K. Quick, who was regarded as one of the nation’s greatest preachers in his prime, offers “Every Missile Is Aimed at Jesus,” drawn from Luke 2:14, John 14:27 and Romans 10:15
Theologian Walter Bruggemann adds “A New World Birthed,” Matthew 1:18-25
The late Bishop Leontine Kelly is included with “The Mind of Christ,” Luke 22:14-23, 56
Our own author of Changing Our Mind, David Gushee preaches “Justice Denied—Except from the Love of God,” Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21 and John 15:1-8
Theologian and educator Barbara K. Lundblad offers “The Body of Christ Takes Up Space on Earth,” John 14:1-14
And Peter Wallace himself appears with “Let’s Dance,” 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 and Mark 6:14-29
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE—
Many of us who love to learn from our religious history are pleased to find a lively 12-page history of the Day1 network at the close of this book. Among the gems in those final pages are stories about how C.S. Lewis came to appear on the network—and how TV host and Presbyterian pastor Fred Rogers also appeared.
“Of course, I’m very pleased with the initial response to this book,” Peter Wallace said in our interview. “We could have chosen from hundreds and hundreds of broadcasts over many decades and we finally focused on more contemporary preaching so that also gives us a better diversity of voices.
“While all of these men and women are different, there are common themes you’ll find as you read through the book. We focus on God’s love and the need to care for one another. The proof of the value of this work really is in the way Day1 continues to reach listeners who tell us that we are important in their daily lives.”
He added, “Given our history, most people think of us as an American radio network, but we’re all over the world now. We’re on the air in Canada, Liberia, the Philippines, New Zealand—and, in a lot of places, that’s because we have very supportive friends who make sure we remain on the air. For example, we’re on a whole network in Nigeria through this wonderful guy who gets our audio on CDs and broadcasts using those. We do offer broadcast-quality downloads, these days, but we still have a lot of requests for the CDs for certain stations like in Nigeria.”
Peter closes his book with an affirmation that the central mission of the network remains unchanged—and that it will continue into the next generation, he hopes.
He writes, “The message remains the same now, not only on the radio but via various podcast platforms. The consistency of the message—the approach to biblical interpretation, the assurance of a God who can love us through our self-doubt, our suffering, our divorce or illness, and the challenge to follow Jesus in every area of life—has never changed.”
Of course, this book was finished before Peter and his team realized the full extent of the pandemic’s impact on churches. One afterword we could add to this volume is simply this:
May this celebration of the art of preaching inspire men and women everywhere to continue their commitments to their own congregations in whatever forms those ministries may take in sharing this timeless Good News.