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.
- 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: lectionary, Revised+Common+Lectionary, preaching, teaching, Monte Asbury