The Lectionary

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.

0664237983Those 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.

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2 thoughts on “The Lectionary

  1. I think I may have mentioned this once before, but when I’ve gone to churches that follow the lectionary, I’ve always appreciated the service including readings that are not relevant to the sermon.

    There’s something about having more variety in readings in case the once chosen as the sermon text isn’t what I need to hear that week.

    There’s also something about having some of the texts used in the service being presented mostly without comment that I find appealing. It allows me to think about and understand those texts for myself without needing someone else’s interpretation.

    • I agree that the lectionary does give more variety in readings. The five selections do not necessarily connect with each other, but, of course, since they are all in some way about God working in the world, they can be connected.

      The lectionary also gets us into places we would not normally go. I don’t think I would have chosen John 17:20-26 as a sermon text on my own. Letting the lectionary do that for me forces me to actually figure out what the text is saying rather than thinking about what I want to say. You can push your pet message into almost any text though.

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