Centered on recent events, preaching inevitably loses most of its transformative power. From apostolic times, the task of preaching has never been a matter of providing a “religious insight” into what’s going on, a new slant on what everyone already knows. The purpose of apostolic preaching was to announce an event that, according to Paul, no one could know without a preacher. The point of preaching is not to answer questions that are already circulating. The point is to challenge the entire worldview that gives rise to those questions, and to announce the reality of a new world in which all the old questions have to be reformulated or discarded altogether.
The essay concludes with a fascinating argument about how the Religious Right, by being inadequately Catholic, has adopted its Biblical understanding from a humanistic movement that deliberately set out to "preserve the secular as a realm of autonomous human reason."
One of the great things about Christianity is the order it lays out for us. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God. In this instance, this gives the proper framework for thinking about topical preaching.
For rhetorical purposes, a preacher might start out with something from a newspaper story, but if the real movement isn't from Revelation outward to the events of the day -- if, to begin with, the preacher isn't reading the newspaper from a Christian perspective -- then all attempts to link what's happening today with what happened in Palestine two thousand years ago will be wrongheaded and, ultimately, failures.
Furthermore, the preacher has to give his audience a reason to care what he says. If the reason is the wittiness of his speech, or the profundity of his insights, then when his audience hear someone wittier or more profound, he will lose them, for good or ill. Ah, but if the reason is the love of Christ that shines through him, he will only lose his audience to someone through whom the love of Christ shines brighter, and that's a loss that's always worth it.
I'm not, as you probably know, writing just of liturgical preaching here.