web analytics

The Preacher and The 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.

If you appreciated this post, consider liking the liturgy facebook page, and/or signing up for a not-very-often email, … if you are on Instagram, please follow @liturgy.

image source

Similar Posts:

8 thoughts on “The Preacher and The Lectionary”

  1. An Anglican priest colleague used to be a prominent member of the Salvation Army. I invited him to come to speak to our parish about the beliefs and practices of that community.This was part of our annual “God With Your Brain In” study cycle, which that year was looking at the variety of Christian practice.
    He spoke so fondly of his time as a Salvationist that he prompted the inevitable question.
    “So, what caused you to leave?”
    I record his response below word for word, as I remember it so clearly.
    “There is a long and a short answer to your question. For now the short one will do. It is only two words, The Lectionary. The Lectionary not only causes us to have increased exposure to a wider scriptural canon and binds us to the universal Church but it also causes us to consider how we will fit our lives to Scripture rather than find Scripture that fits our lives.”

    1. Thanks, Peter. In a post four years ago, I claimed, “The RCL is the worst form of systematically reading the Bible as church, except for all the others.” And I quoted Screwtape’s rejoicing:

      In order to spare the laity all “difficulties” he has deserted both the lectionary and the appointed psalms and now, without noticing it, revolves endlessly round the little treadmill of his fifteen favourite psalms and twenty favourite lessons. We are thus safe from the danger that any truth not already familiar to him and to his flock should over reach them through Scripture.


      1. When I decided I wanted to join the Anglican Church Choir ( Had never sang in a Church Choir) ; after a few weeks, the Choir Master said to me If you enjoy singing the audience with enjoy.
        A preacher who enjoys what he/she preaches, I find gives a great sermon; better still, if he/she can find a balance between their personal view and what is the required rule of The Lectionary, then that is worth listening too! Blessed to have a few Anglican priests/vicar’s in my local area who preach this way.

  2. Thanks for widening my knowledge. In my part of the world many Christians come to church to hear sermons. Attending church is a wholistic package and goes beyond a sermon. Singing, listening to the readings , prayers etc makes one leave the church ready to ‘love and serve the Lord’

    1. Yes, thanks, Enoch. The go-to-church-for-the-sermon approach reduces when someone finds that YouTube and books are better than the local preacher 🙂 I think your wholistic approach is the way forward – with good preaching as very important also. Blessings.

  3. Agree with both comments completely. The Lectionary compels is to deal with the ‘bits we don’t choose’. Reminds us all we are involved in the Gospel we do not define it. We often hear/feel inspired despite the Sermon.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.