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.

On Death and Dying

This past week I attended A Dialogue on the Role of Religion and Spirituality in the Aboriginal Worldview  sponsored by the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. I must admit, I attended this event under duress. One of my professors made the dialogue part of his course requirements and since it landed at the beginning of a week in which a lot of assignments were due, it is unlikely  I would have gone without this “little push”.

It was a day of learning new things, some of which I am still processing. I learned how aboriginal spirituality is tied to the land and recognizes the spirit in all that grows on it; the tree people, the rock people, the green people, the winged people, the four leggeds and the two leggeds. It’s a paradigm that is outside of, but intersects with, my own in various places..

Rev.Ray Aldred, was the keynote speaker for the day, an ordained minister and associate professor at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary. His presentation was insightful and interesting, but it was something  he said later in the day, as part of an informal panel, that has been working over in my head through the week. He was talking about death and said  one of the greatest gifts the older generation can give the next one is to go to their ancestors, to die.

Now, to be fair, he never used the word die, that is my word clarifying the going to the ancestors words. The way  he said it, the “going to the ancestors” was just part of the cycle, a carrying on in a different place, the next stop on the journey, a continuation along the trajectory of life. In fact, it was a gift to the next generation because it gave them an opportunity to step up and use their gifts of leadership in the community.

His words made me wonder, as he spoke easily about a topic  we non-aboriginals avoid, if he is typical of his people. His “going to the ancestors” was as logical and inviting as my saying  “I’m going to be a grandfather”. There seemed to be little angst since the going was to those  he already knew. There was no indication of meeting the Great Spirit, of standing in judgement, of counting on the blood of the Lamb, just going to a family reunion. There was no talk of streets of gold (would I even like streets of gold?) rather, a feeling of coming together with people who are loved, in a place that is known and valued, a natural transition. Something to be expected, expectantly.

Our Christian view, of death as an enemy, a defeated enemy, but still an enemy, does not lend itself to embracing this transition  each of us will face as a natural part of the cycle of life. We still see death as the punishment for sin, rather than a gift to future generations, an unnatural intrusion into a perfect world, rather than a natural transition to the arms of the ancestors.

I will continue to mull and ponder.

Another Semester Gone

Tonight, I went to the last Waterloo Lutheran Seminary class of the winter 2012 semester. At the beginning of the class I handed in the last assignment as well, a 29 page exegesis of Philippians 2:1;13. Before this year I never could have imagined that I could write over 7000 words about a piece of the Bible that is about 250 words long. Now I can. That’s progress, isn’t it?

The class was short tonight so I’m home a little earlier than usual, just after 10 pm. I’m tired and sick. Went to the doctor yesterday for antibiotics to fight off the second dose of bronchitis this year. I’m sure that the sickness has to do with trying to do too much and running myself down, but, I don’t have time to slow down.

I start Greek on Thursday and still have four weeks of an online course ahead of me as well. In May, I’ll start an undergrad philosophy course that is required to round out my undergraduate degree, now over 30 years old, to the specifications of Calvin Seminary.

The journey goes on and it has been a bit uphill. There is flatter trail ahead (I hope)