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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

They Call it a Lectionary: In Support of Boring

Lectionary: lectionary is a book or listing that contains a collection of scripture readings appointed for Christian or Judaic worship on a given day or occasion. There are sub-types such as a "gospel lectionary" or evangeliary, and an epistolary with the readings from the New Testament Epistles. (from Wikipedia, August 13, 2015)

Image result for lectionary My congregation organizes its worship life around the readings found here. Other congregations use a "Narrative Lectionary," and still others do not use any lectionary at all in organizing its worship. Notice though: everyone organizes around the scripture, it's just a question of which scripture?

But something problematic is happening in congregations that use lectionaries. (I have limited experience with congregations that do not use lectionaries, but those I know of do not have this problem.) The problem is that somehow preachers have the idea that the lectionary readings for the week can speak to whatever problem arises in our world today. This is not so. (Unless you are a theologian who argues that all problems arise from the same source, like lack of trust, or blasphemy, or idolatry. Then, of course, every text does apply because the problem the text deals with are the same problem we're dealing with today.) But if the problems of the world have multiple sources (and I am not advocating there are multiple sources), then clearly, assuming the lectionary readings correspond to the issues of today is problematic.

Here's the thing: if you're going to be a lectionary preacher all your sermons will be the same. The examples and stories will differ, but every sermon will root out the same source, till the same problem, and harvest the same fruit. Although the Bible has a lot of variety, to distill it to one message week in-and-week out for forty years of preaching could get a bit boring.

Many preachers opt for other things; some unfortunately, abuse the Bible to fit their version of the problems and issues of the day (for example, Paul may really have been afraid of sex.) It
is tricky to preach on the lectionary because it forces us to distill every text, every story, every poem in the Bible through the lens of Jesus Christ and his forgiveness in the power of the Holy Spirit. Your sermons will sound boring, repetitive, and recycled because every week you are going back to the same starting point to end at the same destination.

That's why my sermons are boring. They all start with the human inability to trust God, the inability to trust our God-given humanity, and the inability to trust our neighbor. Every sermon I've ever delivered starts there. I don't care what the lectionary text is, because for me that's where every verse in the entire Bible starts, so it doesn't matter what the text is, it will start there. And every sermon ends at the cross and resurrection, and the power of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit to free us for forgiveness. That's as far as Christians can go; the rest is just day by day, walking paths un-walked, crossing streams never forded, and climbing mountains of corporate and individual struggles as yet un-crested. Starting the same place, ending the same place...yes, my sermons are predictable and boring.

But there are many stories to tell about that beginning and ending. There is great variety on how God's love gets shared through our inability to trust. There are many ways in the Bible that get at that issue, and many ways in our lives that show us how God responds. God's love constantly battles against our lack of trust, and preaching, whether from a lectionary or through a dart at the table of contents of the Bible, shows that love in action. Granted, after a while, the same thing week after week can get a bit dull.

But sometimes God's love can feel that way too...even in the lectionary.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Here's a sample sermon of what I'm talking about.

1 comment:

Eliza Cranston said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the lectionary! I love that you emphasize the opportunity it gives you to tell the same story in many different ways, and that this doesn't have to be boring. I'm wondering what lectionary you use and what publishers you would recommend? https://store.csspub.com/page.php?Custom%20Menu=1