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Lectionary Preaching & Teaching

by Tim Isbell, #lectionarysermons 

Many preachers from a wide range of Christian traditions use the Revised Common #Lectionary to guide their congregations through the major themes of the Bible in three years. I've found it an invaluable resource in my Nazarene tradition. For every Sunday and Holy Day (such as Good Friday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, etc.) the lectionary provides a robust set of readings. There are always at least 4:

  • Old Testament - The first half of the Christian year readings are typological, meaning they complement or contrast to the gospel in some way. For the second half of the year, the lectionary adds a stream of semi-continuous readings that lend themselves to preaching series based on Old Testament books. Most lectionary preachers choose to ride one of these streams for several weeks at a time.
  • Wisdom Literature - These come mostly from the Psalms and are great for responsive readings and "teachable moments" before prayer, as well as sometimes for sermon texts.
  • Gospel - Year A features Matthew; Year B features Mark; Year C features Luke. John is scattered throughout and is especially prevalent around Easter.
  • Epistle - This usually connects with the gospel.
I used the lectionary as a roadmap for 10 years to the same congregation and never ran out of good preaching material. Using the lectionary gave me confidence that our people consistently received a balanced diet of the main themes of scripture. I seldom used more than one of the scriptures on a given Sunday. Our worship leader used the lectionary scriptures, especially the Psalms, to construct responsive readings and to as a guide for selecting music. 

Below is a helpful graphic illustrating the Christian calendar seasons and their lectionary connection. For a larger view, just click on it. For an animated PowerPoint slide, where you can move the "star" from Advent to whatever season you are emphasizing, just download the attachment at the bottom of this page.

For additional general information about the lectionary, click on Lectionary Basics.

Benefits of Lectionary Preaching

1. Ensures the congregation a balanced diet of primary biblical themes, while simultaneously balancing the various flavors of biblical literature types (narrative, teaching, poetry, instruction, prophecy, epistles, etc.).

2. Connects the congregation with the Christian calendar, helping parishioners understand that we are citizens of the Kingdom of God with postal addresses in kingdoms of this world. (Philippians 3.20, 1 Peter 2.9)

3. Provides worship leaders lead-time to prepare special elements such as music, responsive readings, skits, and so on.

4. Encourages preachers to address important scriptures that many of us would miss or skip.

5. Opens up an assortment of sermon helps. For example, you can find individual sermons for most lectionary Sundays right on this website by clicking on Sermon Chart.

6. Provides a weekly Bible reading plan that prepares parishioners for the upcoming Sunday worship. A New Life parishioner, Gloria Wall, developed a daily Bible reading plan around the Revised Common Lectionary. It is available online at Gloria's Webpage.

7. When I used the lectionary, our church had three congregations: English, Mandarin Chinese, and Cantonese Chinese. Feeding all three congregations scriptures from the lectionary was a great way to tie the congregations together.

8. Centering the preaching calendar on the lectionary enables the pastors of a multi-language church to collaborate on sermon preparation. The preaching pastors met twice a month to discuss and brainstorm past and upcoming sermons. These meeting times were among the best times we shared together.

9. When a special preaching need arose it was usually easy to connect it to a lectionary scripture within the next few weeks. On those occasions where this was difficult, we set aside the lectionary for a week or a series.

10. There is potential to build a Bible study and SS curriculum connected to Sunday worship, such as the first item in the next section of this webpage.

My cribs-sheet of lectionary reaching and teaching resources (January 2021)

  • For Tim’s Scripture Digest, type into any browser. My goal in writing this is to provide readers whatever background they need to fruitfully dwell (reflect) on these scriptures for a week. A click on that link will pop up the Digests for the previous and upcoming Sundays, as well as access to all the Digests for all the lectionary Sundays that I have written so far. I update this link every Wednesday morning. At the end of each weekly Digest is a link to the Lifegroup Session Notes from the night before, and from there you access any Google Slides we used. So my Scripture Digest is designed for personal spiritual formation, teachers, and preachers.
  • Gloria’s Lectionary Page is my go-to source for scripture sets. You can use it to print out the lectionary in various formats. Gloria Wall is a good friend and a long-term member at Cupertino New Life (my home church)
  • RCL Lectionary Scriptures by Biblical Book. I use this when I want to quickly find the next or all the times when a passage is in the RCL. I adapted it from cri/
  • RCL Calendar Annotated. This document is organized by calendar date. When I read or run across some content of interest that ties to a future lectionary scripture, I drop the resource or a pointer to it into this document on upcoming dates. I adopt this one from one of Gloria’s Lectionary pages.
  • biblical timeline. I don’t trust this on everything, but it’s a convenient place to quickly find where a particular scripture fits in the Bible’s timeline.
  • Biblical Authorship is a supplement to my Scripture Digest. Instead of writing a paragraph about a particular book every time it appears in the Digest, I can point to this document.
  • Tim’s Sermon Collections. This link offers access to my sermon notes, organized by lectionary seasons (and cross-referenced to topics).
  • A Plain Account is similar to my Scripture Digest. Like mine, theirs is Wesleyan-Armenian. It’s different in that it’s a multiple-author. The website offers a Monday morning email notification for the upcoming Sunday’s readings.
  • The Episcopal Church Bible Study is a collaborative writing project on lectionary readings. These writings are more devotional, in nature, but organized similar to my Scripture Digest and A Plain Account.

Where did the Lectionary come from?

The lectionary concept has been around the Christian world for centuries. The most recent and broadly used revision, which I use throughout this site, was developed by The Consultation on Common Texts in 1992. The Christian traditions at the core of this are Anglican, Disciples of Christ, Christian Reformed, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Reformed Church of America, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist.

If your tradition is not listed above, don't worry about it. Neither is mine. I'm in the Nazarene tradition and I assure you that this set of scriptures is as good a set as you will find anywhere. When we get into the pulpit, we are preaching scripture. But I find great confidence in knowing that over any 3-year cycle I'm preaching the best balance of scripture available. And I have absolutely no difficulty setting the lectionary calendar aside in order to preach an off-lection special sermon or series that the Lord prompted me to preach. 



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Subpages (1): Lectionary Sermons
Tim Isbell,
Oct 15, 2010, 10:29 AM