Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Preach the Word

A "sermon" that is driven by an agenda or source other than Scripture-—even one that pretends to have a text but does not actually expound it-—has no basis to be called "word of God," no matter how valid a religious exercise it might be.
-Frederick Gaiser, in a recent editorial for "Word and World"
This is a very big deal to me. For the past five years or so I've been a member of a congregation which has abandoned the lectionary in favor of thematic sermon series. At first, I thought, "Well, that's odd but I guess I can live with it." But it has continued to be a rock in my shoe, increasing in irritation until now it is one of the big reasons I'm contemplating a change of scenery.

I was willing to give it a try because it's true that the lectionary is adiaphora and need not be kept merely because "that's the way we've always done it." But as is so often the case, it turns out there's a reason we've done it that way.

With the "sermon series" approach, the theme of the sermon is selected and then the "readings" are put with it. This invariably guarantees that the Biblical text will, at most, serve as a prop in the background of the preacher's message. That's a pretty poor substitute for the role the Bible can play in worship.

6 comments:

Lutheran Zephyr said...

Right on. The lectionary is not a God, but it is a great tool, a great discipline for preachers.

I'm not ordained (at least, not yet), but when I served as a full-time youth director the pastor had me preach for a special summer "contemporary" service. He wanted me to develop a preaching series. I insisted that it be based on the lectionary (we were in a year of Luke with tons of Kingdom of God images). So I created a series, "What's the Kingdom have to do with King of Prussia" (the town where the church was located), examining the Kingdom of God and what it means for us, our salvation and our daily life.

What's the difference between this situation and yours? In this situation our preaching series was based on the lectionary, forcing us to find a theme and a consistant message in a 10 week period in the lectionary. Otherwise, sure, we can all just read Purpose Driven Life or the latest Dan Quayle book and call it a series . . .

If your senior pastor insists on doing series, ask him if you can design the next series or two based on the lectionary. He still gets his snappy series, but you (and your congregation) get the discipline and breadth of the lectionary.

Luthsem said...

The lectionary keeps you from not picking your favorite verses. You have to preach from texts that you find troubling. I believe this is the best way for scripture to interpret the preacher and the congregation with a lesser chance for either one to set the agenda.

Lee said...

Unfortunately, the lectionary is no guarantee that the same thing won't happen. Our church follows the lectionary, and I've heard plenty of sermons that were tenuously connected to the text at best (and, of course, the OT reading, the Psalm and the Epistle are routinely ignored altogether).

LutherPunk said...

The lectionary has forced me as a preacher to encounter texts that I may not want to deal with. A good example was the time I was faced with Mark 10 after my divorce. Tough stuff, but good stuff. If I don't wrestle with Law and Gospel as a pastor, how can I expect my congregation to wrestle with it in their daily lives?

Tom in Ontario said...

In my 3.5 years as a pastor I deviated from the lectionary for the first time last summer when I preached a 5 week sermon series on Kelly Fryer and Cross of Glory Church's "five guiding principles":
1. Jesus is Lord
2. Everyone is Welcome
3. Love Changes People
4. Everybody Has Something to Offer
5. The World Needs What We Have

On those Sundays we still read the lessons from the RCL but I didn't preach on those texts.

I don't think it's wrong to do a sermon series. I also don't think it's wrong to preach a topical or doctrinal sermon if something warrants it at one time or another. But I think a lectionary should be the basis of our preaching and proclamation for the most part. An occasional sermon series or topical sermon ought to be exceptions.

Fred Craddock writes:
The lectionary assures the congregation will hear, and in many cases read along with the worship leader, much of the Bible. In addition the lectionary assures a breadth for both public reading and preaching, probably far greater than would be scheduled by the choices of a single minister. The pulpit is thereby nudged into corners of the canon into which it might not otherwise go if personal preference prevailed.

Andy said...

One of the other benefits of the lectionary is the it provides a point of contact across churches. As someone to whom online community is important, the lectionary connects me to the life of the Church across congregational borders.

As lee says, the lectionary is no guarantee that the Bible will be preached. And I don't dispute Tom's idea that it's OK to do other things when needed.

Luthsem's point about favorite verses is dead on. I once heard Philippians 2:5-11 five times in a year and half. It's a great passage, but there's so much more in the Bible.

But the point in Gaiser's editorial is more about just preaching from the Bible -- letting the Bible set the agenda -- than about the lectionary. It's a great editorial and worth reading if you haven't already.