The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

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.


Tags: , , , , Monte Asbury

Written by Monte

June 27, 2007 at 12:40 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Thanks – and yes, it really is amazing – especially, perhaps, to me! I’m often completely surprised when I hear that a sermon meshed with what was going on in someone’s life.

    I like to major in the gospels, and even there, I’ve been so surprised by who Jesus is and what he’s concerned about.

    This week, for instance, it’s Matthew 25: I was hungry and you fed me, etc. The implications of it are startling!

    And yes, you’re right, the lectionary is simply a systematic way of working through the Bible – a variant on what your pastor does. Thanks so much for coming by!

    Monte

    November 22, 2008 at 12:18 am

  2. I attend a Baptist church in Knoxville… Our pastor doesn’t use the lectionary (I’m unfamiliar with that term)… but he does preach through the Bible in a systematic fashion. Currently he is preaching through 2 Corinthians in the Sunday AM service, and Revelation in the Sunday PM service.

    I like this because of a similar reason that you have given for what you do. ““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.””

    My pastor has mentioned… “I know some pastors tend to preach on ‘pet themes’. But you can know that I won’t preach on money until we get to chapter 6. Then I will once, and we’ll move on to the next portion of scripture. Ü

    I believe the bible when it says “Do all things decently and in order.”

    ~*~ Jennifer ~*~

    November 21, 2008 at 1:58 pm

  3. Monte,
    I want to hear one of your sermons. I don’t see myself in Iowa most likely though. To many obligations in other parts of the world to travel somewhere off the beaten path!

    giannakali

    January 3, 2008 at 11:13 pm

  4. I like to use the Koran in my nazarene church, I feel we can gain much of it

    Monte Says: Interesting, Mike – and how do you do it?

    Mike Hunt

    November 30, 2007 at 6:50 am

  5. “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.”

    What an incredibly powerful statement, “the entire Jesus story”. I just love that statement. I was in a (Nazarene) church that followed the lectionary pretty closely. And now I am in a (Nazarene) church-plant that does not-at all.

    I miss Advent the most. I miss the anticipation, the building up to Christmas Day, the excitement, the richness of the lectionary and the season, the OT proclamations of the coming of the Christ. Christmas hasn’t been the same since!

    I miss the Lenten season too, we would have an Ash Wed service to start it all off. But Especially Holy Week. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday (the pastors would wash our feet-truly an incredibly moving experience-VERY special memories of this act of service) and Good Friday where everything ended in coldness and darkness. And then on Sunday? It was the biggest of celebrations!

    Every year! Over and over. NEVER boring-because I understood! Always expecting. Always anticipating what was next. Expecting birth, expecting death, expecting life.

    I miss the multiple scripture readings (from the Psalms and OT readings and letters). I miss the high-churchiness too, the responses, the creeds and the Lord’s Prayer.

    I miss the flow of the church calendar. I miss the flow of the service. I miss the richness of meaning. I miss the feedings that you are providing to your people.

    -Derin Beechner-

    thewienerdogblog

    September 18, 2007 at 9:38 pm

  6. Monte, my friend,
    Thanks for this post. I’m with you on it. I like the Lectionary … on balance! I have a sort of “grumpy” relationship with it – I use it and complain, but wouldn’t think of abandoning it! I’ve been thinking about this subject (hence following this up) because I’ve written a page outlining my own approach to the Lectionary readings. I always have a sneaking worry that I sell the non-gospel passages short, by making the gospel the major theme and finding common themes in the other readings (rather than exegeting them in their own right).

    I hope this finds you well. I have a sabbatical next year and plan on visiting the US: one of my planned stops, if I do, is to come to listen to you preach on a Sunday. It would be good to do that, I know!

    Monte Says: Thanks very much, as always! I do hope it works out for you to visit. Looking forward to reading your lectionary post.

    Lawrence

    August 23, 2007 at 1:55 pm


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