lectionary

A recent post about “what a lectionary is not” led to a lot of helpful discussion (here and elsewhere). We can think further about the place of preaching in worship.

I think preaching is important. I have heard some amazing sermons that have made me feel, think, and make changes in my life. But, I have also heard many mediocre sermons that were confused, did not have any connections to something I could actually go out and do, or were simply lengthy theological treatises that were read without real engagement with the gathered community. Many preachers seem to live in a bubble, with no real idea of the brevity of the average contemporary attention span [look at what a TV advertisement packs in to 30 seconds, or a YouTube ad in the few seconds before you can click “skip ad”].

But, the sermon is not the essence of a service. It is one element within many. I regularly liken a service to casting several pebbles into a pond, resulting in intersecting ripples spreading out. One person connects with this ripple, another with a different ripple. We each arrive at a service with different needs.

In the discussions about the post, some people questioned having a lectionary at all. They want everything in the service controlled by the preacher who sets a theme and then finds a reading to fit with that theme. They miss that the Three-Year lectionary tradition provides a number of readings in which a good preacher can find connections appropriate for the occasion and the gathered community. And, at times, the preacher might not preach on a reading.

Regularly, people complain about the readings in the three-year Sunday lectionary not being connected into a tight theme. These say how difficult it is to preach on all three disconnected readings in one sermon! This seriously misunderstands both the place of readings and of preaching. Are such people also seeking to preach and teach on each of the hymns and songs sung, prayers prayed, actions done as well?!

The readings can speak for themselves. They need to be proclaimed well. They are God’s Word. Hear, through them, what the Spirit is saying to us, the church. Recently, I got little from a sermon that I cannot now recall, but a phrase in a reading from Paul deeply touched me and has stayed with me since that day. Certainly, the preacher didn’t refer to the phrase that touched me – but, in churches that reduce the number of readings, especially if they don’t fit the preachers tight theme, I would not have received this word to me.

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