The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Why I use the lectionary

with 2 comments

Four years ago, I was pondering several “how’s:”

  • I benefit from a tradition that treasures being “Spirit-led” in the choosing of topics and texts. But given the inherent subjectivity of inner guidance, how could I avoid preaching my own unseen prejudices?
  • Naturally, Scriptures that I knew well often came to mind as preaching possibilities. Was I limiting my preaching – and possibly my view of God – by leaning too much on passages I knew?  How could I require myself to explore those with which I was less familiar?
  • I was learning about the wisdom God had given others in the church. How could I benefit from their insights? When someone had a song or a dance, how could I look down the weeks and see … where it might fit as a teaching tool that gave weight to other things happening that day?
  • And, time! I spent much of my week listening, praying, thinking about what to preach. How could I find time to sink more deeply into what I was teaching?

After much casting about, I discovered what Christians of many stripes had used for centuries, for these very reasons: lectionaries. You may not realize how heretical this would have seemed to me at one time. I pondered and prayed long, then decided to give it a try.

After four years of the Revised Common Lectionary, I am astonished by the improvements in my heart and my preaching that have come.

For instance:

  • Seemingly more Spirit-led: Where once I said, “God, what would you say to us this week?” I now ask, “God what message do you have for me (and secondly, for us) through these parts of the great story? I spend more time looking deeply, less time looking broadly.
  • Balance: Ironically, I am sure I and my people are getting broader coverage of Scripture than ever before, especially while hearing the entire Jesus story every year.
  • Presence of Scripture: Scripture plays a larger role in our worships than before.
  • Effectiveness: Our songs, our prayers, our visual and dramatic elements contribute to the same theme. We didn’t have time to do this before, late in each week. But now elements can be collected weeks in advance. And since the Scriptures are on the web, some choose to ponder and discuss them before the sermon.
  • Others’insights: Since so many walk through these same Scriptures, writers on the Web from around the world help me grow. As with all resource sets, many contributions are uninspiring. But there are some gold mines! I have found the most consistently thought-provoking insights I’ve ever used.
  • “How did you know?” Since someone else has chosen the Scriptures each week, people go home more astonished than ever when the Bible speaks directly to their lives. Often I am unaware of issues of struggle until after the sermon, when people say, “I know you didn’t know, but you were talking to me today.” Rarer than before is the parishioner who feels “picked on.”
  • Themes: The main points of the Bible often become the main points of the sermons. If something comes up a lot in Scripture, it comes up a lot in preaching. If not, not. I find great comfort in this: a hope that I am better delivering the ancient and ever-new roots of our faith, and less likely to “strain at the gnat and swallow the camel.”
  • Most of all (and this is my great delight), I spend more time looking at Jesus himself. As we walk through a gospel each year, what Jesus cares most about stacks up week by week, for all to see. He looks different to me now, for the things he does and says over and over, I am obliged to teach over and over. Result? He is more attractive to me – and more surprising to me – than ever before.

It’s been good. I’m looking forward to the future. I’ll probably update this list as I see more. Have insights?

P.S.: Questions about lectionaries? You might enjoy Vanderbilt Divinity’s Lectionary FAQ.

Tags: , , , , Monte Asbury

2 Responses

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  1. Thank you so much, my friend. I preached one yesterday that leaned on your exegesis of Luke 9, and the brief retrospective tour you took of the places Jesus had been and things he had done. And I realized, for the very first time, that Jesus is actually a law-breaker. I’d always assumed that he violated only the Pharisees’ customs and interpretations of law. But I realized that his travel to pagan graveyards, being touched by the menstruating woman without a period of cleansing, etc., were actually transgressions of the Bible itself. When that was coupled with Galatians 5 about freedom, it became clear to me as never before that Jesus was determined to love people no matter what, and that this new law had utterly displaced the old, and that every rule we have must be likewise rejected when it stand in love’s way. I hope to post this soon. God has so used you in my life! Thank you!


    July 2, 2007 at 3:57 pm

  2. Monty, this is a great post! I’m fascinated that you find your preaching Spirit-led as a result of the RCL. I’d agree – and in the different way you indicate. The disadvantage that I find is that the texts are selected on the old historical-critical model of taking isolated pericopae – with the result that one misses the narrative flow and the narrative devices the evangelists use. And the other thing is that they never actually finish a gospel! I find myself devastated – it’s like coming to the end of a book and finding the final pages missing! But for all that, I’d use the Lectionary rather than not.

    On a general matter: you’ve left me way behind on laying out a website! I’m impressed at all the things you’ve included.

    You’re an encouragement, Monte! I like where you go with the Spirit! Your sermons have “bite”. Thanks.


    July 1, 2007 at 5:52 pm

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