How do you choose a text for a sermon? I haven’t got all that many sermons under my belt yet, but this question always dogs me as I begin to write new one. My tradition in the Christian Reformed Church leaves the choice of the text fairly open, each pastor finding an appropriate passage to work with. There is the mandate, stated in the Church Order, to preach weekly from the Heidelberg Catechism. As second Sunday services have declined, so has catechism preaching. Many pastors roll through the Bible choosing texts, some will preach a series of sermons focusing on a particular theme, chapter or book of the Bible. Some will use the work of a popular Christian authour to guide them through a theme and provide a starting scripture for their work.
One of the beneficial bits coming from my training at the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary has been my introduction to the Revised Common Lectionary. The lectionary provides scripture readings for each Sunday of the year in a three-year rotation. These choices include and Old Testament reading, a Psalm, an epistle, and a reading from the Gospels. Each year focuses on one of the first three gospels so that parishioners will hear a consistent gospel voice over the year rather than the random readings often found in non-lectionary churches. This common lectionary is used by liturgical protestant churches, Lutherans, Presbyterians along with others, and by Roman Catholic congregations. While it is not mandatory in these situations to always follow the lectionary, it is advised. There are a few pastors in the CRC using the lectionary regularly, but not many.
The lectionary serves to tie the churches together. Recently, I preached a sermon on the parable of the Prodigal Son which just happened to be the lectionary assignment that day. As I drove to the church, I passed others where the sermon theme was posted on the sign out front and saw all sorts of renditions of my sermon title. It was neat to realize, even though we may be separated denominationally, we are hearing the same word and are joined in it. This week will be the same, but in this case, I actually went to the lectionary for the text and found it both challenging and new. Preaching from the lectionary takes away the tendency to find a text which matches the theme of the sermon you want to preach. It forces the sermon writer to begin with the text.
Those in the pew can benefit from the lectionary as well. Since the texts for the week are set, they can study those texts, live with them, for the week, and then recognize them as they are blended into the service. A number of study helps have been designed just for this purpose. One of these came a cross my desk this week from Westminster press. Daily Feast:Meditations from Feasting on the Word, provides a structured approach to meditating on the texts for the week along with thought-provoking questions to take the reader further into the text and to apply it to real life. Written reflections, while short, are well written and take the reader to the heart of the text, preparing the reader for Sunday worship, but also keeping them in the Word throughout the week.