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Why I use the lectionary

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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 … Read the rest of this entry »

Why I use the lectionary

with 6 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.


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Written by Monte

June 27, 2007 at 12:40 pm

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Readings for Sunday, Jan 20, 2008

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Baptism of Jesus, Russian icon, ca. 1430

Baptism of Jesus Christ, Russian icon, ca. 1430.

Well now, what’s this? We’re plugging along – Mathew, Matthew, Matthew – only to land in John’s gospel. Here’s how the Revised Common Lectionary defends itself:

Although it is not given a year of its own, the gospel of John is used during the major seasons, the so-called “festal” days of the year. . . . it is certainly not a sequential, chronological narration as much as it is a liturgical, theological explanation of the paschal mystery. Others would understand the gospel of John as being catechetical or mystogogical [there’s a word you’ll be needing over lunch this week – M.], since it examines what it means to be the community of Jesus Christ.

So, then: Wishing you the finest of mystogogeries, off we set into preparations for this week’s worship gathering!

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

January 20, 2008; John 1:29-42 • 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 • Isaiah 49:1-7 • Psalm 40:1-11

John 1:29-42
The God-Revealer
29-31The very next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and yelled out, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb! He forgives the sins of the world! This is the man I’ve been talking about, ‘the One who comes after me but is really ahead of me.’ I knew nothing about who he was—only this: that my task has been to get Israel ready to recognize him as the God-Revealer. That is why I came here baptizing with water, giving you a good bath and scrubbing sins from your life so you can get a fresh start with God.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

January 16, 2008 at 6:25 pm

Jesus dissed in Samaria

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AND CALLS DOWN FIRE?
Palestine under the Roman occupation of the 1st century wasn’t Israel the way we think of it today; that name was scarcely in use. Some “countries” in the region were Jewish and others were not.

Jesus mapJesus spent most of his life in Galilee (blue, at left, just west of the “Sea of Galilee”). As the time for his death approaches—the way Luke tells it— he begins the journey south to Judea and its hub, Jerusalem. Jerusalem, on the map at left, is just west of the north end of the Dead Sea. Much of Luke’s gospel after 9:51 takes place on the road to Jerusalem.

Between Galilee and Judea is Samaria: in effect, a foreign country. Samaritans, whose core stock were Jews not taken into exile centuries earlier when most were, saw themselves as holders of the true faith, convinced the “Jews” had compromised truth away while serving Babylon’s courts. Jews, meanwhile, thought Samaritans had so mingled with native religions that they were no longer pure. And thus began yet another of religion’s “adventures in missing the point.”

Normally, observant Jews skirted Samaria by veering into the Jordan valley, avoiding “contamination.” Jesus, however, plunges into the Samaritan countryside, ignoring the taboo.

And one time, as they travelled … Read the rest of this entry »

The risen Christ (readings for Sunday, April 15, 2007)

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Second Sunday of Easter; April 15, 2007
John 20:19-31; Revelation 1:4-8; Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 [click for same verses in NIV]

CaravaggioStartling, ghastly, glorious reality: As awareness of Jesus’ resurrection spreads, suddenly he appears among them. They are terrified, then thrilled. Eight days later, Thomas has a moment when he may hope everyone’s forgotten what he’d recently said. Perhaps it had seemed prudent at the time!

From the stories of Jesus: John 20:19-31

To Believe
Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews [that is, the Jewish officials: everybody in the story is Jewish], had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered… Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

April 9, 2007 at 3:30 pm