Pop Goes the Culture

Hip priests use pop culture references in their sermons. Or at least priests who think they’re hip in a connect-with-the-people kind of way. In a way that says I-may-be-a-priest-but-I’m-still-cool-(really) kind of way. Hip priests also have goatees but that’s another subject.

I use pop culture references on occasion not because I’m hip, necessarily, but because it’s the world in which I live. They may date me — they often seem to come from the ’80’s — but if something pops into my head I’ll often work it into a sermon. I don’t preach the reference but consider it the “salt” that spices up my text and keeps people engaged. You never know what might get worked in. I try never try to force anything and I certainly don’t use them every week. But I have fun with them. Though I admit I sometimes edit them out at the 8 o’clock service because I’m not a big fan of blank stares from the pulpit.

The categories tend to be movies, music, and sports. Here are a few from the last couple of months:

Yesterday, I quoted Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part I in reference to Herod’s tight grip on his earthly kingdom: “It’s good to be the king.” Some got it; some didn’t. Which was just fine. In a sermon about the apocalypse this fall I worked in REM’s “It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).” How could I not? During Advent I compared John the Baptist to a fullback clearing the way for Jesus (gotta throw a bone to the guys in the congregation on occasion). And the Sunday after Christmas, in reminding people that Christmas is not just a day but a season, I told them to “Party like it’s 1999,” quoting Prince, if not the Prince of Peace.

My friend and colleague Scott Gunn, a priest in Rhode Island, quoted both and Origen and Will Ferrell’s Talladega Nights in yesterday’s sermon. Brilliant — I assume. And, knowing Scott, quite authentic. Which is precisely the point. If the reference isn’t forced; if it relates to the readings; then it has the potential to help people see the gospel in a new way.

And heck, what were the parables of Jesus if not the pop culture references of ancient Palestine?


4 Comments on “Pop Goes the Culture”

  1. I guess I would be an attendee at the 8 o’clock service in your church because last fall, during Kol Nidre services at my synagogue, when the (very young) rabbi made a reference to Erykah Badu, several 20-something friends, seeing my own blank stare, said, “You don’t know who she is, do you?” Of course I didn’t…

  2. Scott Lenoir says:

    Whatever the illustration, it’s got to fit like a glove; otherwise, leave it out!
    Here’s a hip move from a Christmas Eve sermon a few days ago: when referring to Ebenezer Scrooge’s friend, Jacob, my friend called out the name Bob Marley without catching himself. Most everyone in the Kansas City congregation began swaying to an unheard, but ever present, reggae tune while contemplating the mystery of Scrooge and Rasta Bob. Probably one of the more memorable pop references ever uttered from the pulpit. Ya mon, dat’s true!

  3. Solange says:

    In reference to Scott’s post, I’m trying to imagine the ghost of Bob Marley’s head appearing as Scrooge’s door knocker. Oh ya – and de door handle appear as a giant spliff, mon! A whole new twist on Dickens.

  4. Father Tim says:

    I incorporated Bob Marley’s “One Love” into a sermon once — can’t remember the context but I’m sure it fit! Can’t go wrong with “Give thanks and prasie to the Lord and it will be all right.” I even had my organist play it.


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