Thursday, October 13, 2016

To Preach the Lectionary or Not. . .

In the latest Lutheran Forum, Matthew D. Musteric (Pastor, Bethlehem ELCA, Pemberville, OH) wonders about the relationship (should I say decline) of preaching to the slavish use of the lectionary by the preacher.  While not opposed to "lectionaries in general or the RCL in particular" he is "uncomfortable with how they have woven themselves uncritically into the life and worship of many churches."

While not oblivious to the flaws of the 3 year lectionary (RCL or not) and while not at all sure that the historic (one year) lectionary is better, I find myself thoroughly wedded to the idea of a lectionary.  I suspect that most Lutherans and nearly all Lutheran pastors are, as well.  While some find the lectionary a prison, I find it continually new and fresh, applicable and appropriate to all that goes on in the world around us as well as providing a rich and diverse witness of Scripture to the people of God and the preacher as he faces his preaching task.

Yes, the problems with the lectionary that led to the 3 year series were largely unique to Rome and its system of so many commemorations of saints that the people missed out on the central message of Scripture.  Musteric wonders if even the 3 year lectionary does not conceal as much as it reveals of Jesus Christ.  Now to be sure, there are subtle and even larger differences between the LSB lectionary and the RCL he is writing about but I understand his point.  Just as the hearing of sermons can become routine and predictable so can the writing of those sermons.  But what he calls a spiritual lethargy as preachers and worship leaders due to the lectionary, I do not find credible.  I do not deny the spiritual laziness and complacency of preacher and the dullness of the ears of folks in the pew.  These have always been a challenge in every age of Christianity.  But the blame does not fall on the lectionary -- not in whole or in part.  It falls on the people (in the pulpit and in the pew).

I would suggest that planning is the big problem.  I am amazed at how many Lutheran pastors I know who still burn the midnight oil on Saturday night trying to find inspiration, searching for illumination, and working to craft a sermon for their people in a few hours.  [It is Thursday; do you know what you are preaching on Sunday?]  No lectionary hinders or supports this failing.  It belongs to the pastor and to people who do not think preaching is worthy of the time spent to plan, prepare, pray, and produce faithful, credible, doctrinal, and applicable sermons.  In fact, it is precisely the gift of a lectionary which enables the pastor to see sermons within the context of a larger time frame and not simply one Sunday at a time.  The lectionary is a crutch only to those who are looking for a crutch.  Anything would do in that regard.  The lectionary is far more a benefit than a hindrance to good Lutheran preaching (whether a 3 year lectionary or the one year version).

Finally, I would remind God's people so apt to see the pastor's role in so many other areas that preaching and prayer remain two of the primary things a pastor does for the benefit of his people.  Do not begrudge the time he spends honing his craft and preparing for Sunday morning.  Do not presume that any sermon can be scratched out in a few minutes unless that is all you are prepared to hear -- the scraps of loose thoughts without plan or development.  Yes, it is easier for me to write a sermon today after making my way through the 3 year lectionary a dozen times and preaching the one year series for 5-10 years.  But the writing of a sermon remains a primary and central task of my ministry for which planning, preparation, and prayer alone produce a credible fruit.  I think my people deserve no less than my best efforts in this regard and, if I have helped them see the role and value of the sermon at all, they know a good effort when they hear it.  The lectionary is far more positive a tool for pastor and for people than negative one.  It is a means of meeting the kairos of God within the chronos of our daily lives.  Every preacher knows this.  Every good preacher capitalizes on it.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

True indeed....preaching and sharing the word of God is the pastor's primary role.

SKPeterson said...

I would also like to remind those good pastors who question the use of the lectionary and who have "heard this all before," that congregations have children and those children have not always heard all of it before. So, we see the example of churches who abandon the lectionary (and liturgy) and then are surprised that their congregants end up being effectively heretics without a knowledge of the Bible or basic theology.

Anonymous said...

Is the synod sending out Visitors to evaluate sermons?

Anonymous said...

I preach from the historic one year Lectionary found in the Book of Common Prayer 1928. I think this is vital in order to assure that all of the major points of Christian teaching are covered each year.

The Lectionary ties the year together. I begin almost every sermon by reminding the people what Sunday this is, where we are in the Kalendar, and what the on-going theme of the season is. I often refer back to a point made several Sundays previous in order to further connect the whole sequence of Sundays.

Without the use of the Lectionary, I think it would be inevitable that preaching would evolve into a continuous series of discourses on a few pet subjects of the preacher. I know of no one for whom the entire cycle is a "favorite," but I know that it is all important and must be preached, year after year.

Fr. D+
Continuing Anglican Priest

Chris said...

To echo Fr. D, the lectionary like the Liturgy keeps the Church grounded and safe from fads and flavors of the month. The lectionary is not designed to make people Scriptural experts but to reveal the Gospel alongside of all of the other Scriptural references within the Divine Liturgy. If people are tired of the same old reading and the same old message, then they are the problem, not the lectionary.

chaplain7904 said...

Like Liturgy itself, Lectionary is not something external to us, but is part and parcel of who we are, and what we do. It is not a handy tool to keep us focused or on task. But each Sunday, and each lection, stands independently, and tells the entire story of salvation, or at least is a launching pad to tell the whole story.

In addition, they lectionary also works as a whole to proclaim the same story.

It doesn't matter if it's 3 year or 1 year. But it should remain consistent, chaning only slowly, even as Liturgical form does.

But a lectionary must be ecclesiastically minded, and not constructed to promote a social agenda. I'm thinking of anything that comes out of the ELCA. I don't know their lectionary, and if it does that or not, but if it does it's not worthy of our attention.

And so lectionary is as an element of Eucharistic Worship.

chaplain7904 said...

Based on the comment above, "True indeed....preaching and sharing the word of God is the pastor's primary role." With much respect I disagree. The Lutheran pastoral office has been defined by preaching, but I think it's the wrong definition. When a pastor is filling in at another church he often says: "I'm preaching at St. So and So this Sunday ... "

The Christian clergyman's truest work is to preside at the high and holy altar of God. To celebrate the holy Eucharist among and with God's holy people in Christ. That is his work. All else he does flows from that, and leads back to that, such as preaching. Preaching is always Baptismal or Eucharistic in nature. It calls people back to their baptism, and invites them to the altar.

General religious talks given in church, especially one that has no Eucharist, are not sermons in my opinion, but religious talks of questionable value.

David Gray said...

One of the difficulties of the lectionary is that it works against preaching, over time, of the whole counsel of the Word.

Anonymous said...

In response to David Gray, let me observe that while I always preach based on the Lectionary readings, I do not hesitate to pull in other Scripture wherever it applies. In this way, the Lectionary is not limiting, but rather provides an organized assurance that the major points of Christian doctrine are covered each year.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest