Most of my Christian life and ministry has been spent in the evangelical free church tradition. In that tradition my approach to preaching was expository, working through whole books of the bible.
When I moved to the Presbyterian Church and began to teach at Knox College I encountered a whole new world for me, that of the lectionary. I had heard occasional mention of it, but never really knew much about it. Most of the people I engaged with in the Presbyterian and Anglican churches never used it. I still find many of the students who come to us at Knox do not use it either.
However it did not take long for me to become a strong supporter. For those of you who have little knowledge of it, it gives a selection of readings (usually four) for each Sunday of the year working through a three year cycle and covering most of the Bible in that time. Each week there is an OT reading, a psalm, a NT reading and a gospel. The readings follow the cycle of the Christian calendar. So why have I become such an advocate.
In Luke 4 when Jesus got up to speak he stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. There is a great value and merit in preaching from scripture as it comes to us, rather than from what we choose. It reinforces the fact that preaching is about God and scripture rather than me and my ideas.
It means that the breadth of scripture is covered rather than our own pet themes. My tradition is evangelical and we always saw ourselves as being biblical, unlike those other ‘liberal’ mainline churches. What I have come to discover though is that more of scripture is read and heard in most of those churches than most of the bible believing churches I previously belonged to.
The lectionary follows the church calendar. Again this was something I vaguely knew existed, but apart from Easter and Christmas never entered calculations. How much I have been valuing Advent over the past few weeks, and have come to understand the importance of Lent in our Christian journey. It also gives a theme each week around which the whole worship service can be shaped. Worship thus becomes a holistic formational event for the community together and our own lives.
Following on from this it enables the whole church to journey together during the week and the year, especially if all are encouraged to use the lectionary for their own devotions. It means the whole community comes to worship to God and listen to the message having already engaged with the text and what God might be saying.
Using the lectionary connects us with the church globally. I know not all churches follow the lectionary, and there are variations in different versions, but never the less many churches (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox) follow it and have for centuries, and the sense that we are reading and hearing from the same scripture each week helps to encourage the sense of catholicity and unity.
Finally I have been amazed how often one of the texts for the week speaks in to the situation of the community or individuals in the place I am preaching. I must admit I found this when I was preaching regularly following a book of the bible while in local church ministry. Today most of my preaching is occasional in a variety of contexts, but my first call is always to look at the lectionary and I continued to be surprised how often I can see how appropriate it is for what I know of the situation – or discover afterwards it has been.
If you have not used the lectionary, why not at least find out what it is, and use it for a period. Perhaps begin by using it for one of the seasons such as Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter or Pentecost. You may discover a whole new dimension in your preaching.