Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Unfolding of the Church's Year of Grace...

I just finished outlining sermons through the end of July 2010. It is my strange and unusual discipline to outline my sermons about six months in advance (I still have August to go) and to plan the services, choose the hymns so that this schedule is available to all of those who join me in planning the service (Cantor especially).

One of the good things about working like this is that I read the lessons and psalms for the coming Sundays and get a chance to see how they connect, how they unfold, how they complement, and how they distinguish themselves -- one Sunday's pericopes from another's. I am constantly amazed at how richly we are fed upon the diet of Scripture in the lectionary (in this case the three year lectionary ala' Missouri Synod based upon the RCL). Truly the preacher is offered a multitude of choices. My planning work is done to prevent this preacher from constantly preaching the same sermon upon the same themes. When I work in the lectionary over a period of months and across seasons of the Church Year, I am forced to make sure that last week's sermon and this week's sermon may be connected but not repeated.

It is a sad thought that so few Pastors and hardly any lay folks look at the lectionary with this broad view of its unfolding lessons and themes over the course of an entire season or longer series of Sundays. It is no wonder, then, that what happens on Sunday morning is often an isolated experience -- disconnected from the Sundays preceding and following. It is no wonder that those planning the service think of the Sunday in isolation or separation from the past and future weeks of grace within the Church Year. Certainly there is a desire to connect them or else we would not be set upon by so many marketed and home grown sermon series (few of which have any connection to the lectionary).

I know there are those (some friends and acquaintances included) who prefer the one year lectionary (so called historic one). I have used it in the past but have kept to the three year lectionary pretty much since Lutheran Worship came on the scene in 1982. There are arguments on both sides that are salutary and no one (except a few of my friends on the lunatic fringe) who would say either is perfect. But there is great wisdom to the use of a lectionary and as they go the three year lectionaray in LSB is quite good.

With Lutheran Service Builder I can print out a lectionary sheet which includes all the pericopes (and alternates) for each Sunday I am working upon and read them through making notes upon the sheets as I go -- commentary glosses, notes from the great sermons of the Fathers (including Luther), and personal notes that relate to illustrations and connections that help unfold how this text applies to me and to the people within my parish... It is a great boon -- this computer software that came out with the hymnal.

We have on our web site a chart so that our folks can look up and read the lessons ahead of time but I do not know how many do this. If you do not, I would suggest that you make it a discipline to work ahead and not backwards -- to focus on the lessons to come and not on the lessons read on Sunday morning -- at least for part of the week. And if you are a Pastor preparing your sermons, take a little word of advice from someone at it for more than 30 years -- even if you write your sermons one week at a time, read through a number of weeks of the lessons to see where things are going as well as where they have been. This is especially true for those who blow their whole load on John 6, for example, and fail to realize that the same chapter is played out for several weeks, not just one...


Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

How blessed we are to have a lectionary! Coming from non-liturgical background, how often have we had to face a preacher who waited till Saturday eveningp to get a "word from the Lord" about what to preach the next day! Not only does the Liturgy protect us, the lectionary does. It prevents our turning in on ourselves, and it prevents the preacher from the same.

I listened to a friend a couple days ago go on about the Scriptural quality of services she attends. ONE verse sermons. ONE verse (maybe three - one on either side) read the entire service. I explained we had three (sometimes lengthy) readings each Sunday, and that the Liturgy is "straight from Scripture." No comment from her.

I agree that if congregants would look ahead, even if only the lessons for the Sunday ahead, we would benefit. For one thing, we'd know what was coming, and maybe there would not be the necessity of following along in the bulletin (nor the rustling of pages being turned!). If we're too lazy to go online and check the website, then shell out a few bucks for a copy of the LSB - it's in there, too!

Robert Lyons said...

Pastor Peters,

Just some meandering thoughts...

I am curious about how you feel about the 3 year lectionary in LSB, especially given the carried-over tendancy from the RCL and the original Novus Ordo lectionary to have readings (usually the Epistle) that are uncoordinated with the OT and Gospel of the day.

I know that LCMS revised and tweaked the 3 year lectionary when LSB came out; and that the WELS did a much more extensive revision of it when their CW: Supplement was released recently. My own Synod then proceeded to review both of these sources before producing its own version which is now under a degree of scrutiny ahead of producing our final BCP.

As it stands, I frequently make use of the rubric in our BCP that allows me to use only two readings (one of them a Gospel) and a Psalm on all but major holy days, and I pick from among the choices appointed for that particular year in the Lectionary what I feel is the best pairing for the purposes of my overall preaching plan (which I do on a seasonal basis - I am working on Paschaltide through Trinity Sunday at the moment).

I will admit to have given some thought to presenting the LSB's revised One Year lectionary to our Synod, and also to presenting the JLG's 4 year lectionary as well... (which I don't think anyone ever used in practice.)

I generally read the readings I am planning to use each day in the week prior to the Sunday (save around major holy days with pretty spot-on themes) and pray over them, crafting my thoughts and lifting them to God, asking that he help me to bring forth what is pure and to set aside what is dross. I then consult with the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and other sources to get some insights before finally going beyond my seasonal outline and engaging the text for preaching.


Fr. Lovett said...

Fr. Peters,
You wrote, "With Lutheran Service Builder I can print out a lectionary sheet which includes all the pericopes (and alternates) for each Sunday"

I ask: how do you get this "lectionary sheet" from the Serivce builder?

Bill S said...

Pastor, where on your church web site is the place where you can read the lessons ahead of time? I can't find it! Can you post the link?

Pastor Peters said...

Oops! The Link was updated from the previous year B... we will correct it Monday...