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Lectionary Preaching

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 3 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 compliment 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" around prayer times, 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 (more than 3 of the 3-year cycles) 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.

For a 2-minute video clip of a small church pastor talking about preaching from the lectionary scriptures, click on Jeremy Scott's video clip.

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, which helps people understand that we are citizens of the Kingdom of God with only our postal addresses in a kingdom of this world. (Philippians 3.20, 1 Peter 2.9)

3. Provides worship leaders ample 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.

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

6. Provides a weekly Bible reading plan that prepares parishioners for the following 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. New Life has three congregations: English, Mandarin Chinese, and Cantonese Chinese. Feeding all three congregations scriptures from the lectionary is a great way to tie the congregations together.

8. Centering the whole church's preaching calendar on the lectionary enables the pastors of a multi-language church to collaborate on sermon preparation. At New Life, the lectionary framed the preaching calendar of all three congregations. The preaching pastors met twice a month to discuss and brainstorm upcoming sermons. These meeting times were among the best times we shared together.

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

10. There is potential to build Bible study and SS curriculum connected to Sunday worship.

Available resources for Lectionary Preaching

In addition to the resources available in Preaching Resources, there is a universe of other helpful resources for preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Most of them are tailored for main-line denomination pastors, but I still find many of them helpful. Here are some I use most frequently:

1. The best website I know of that describes the lectionary is the one developed by our New Life parishioner: Gloria Wall. In addition to the standard RCL (Revised Common Lectionary) detail, this website includes the Daily Bible Reading plan that will take readers through the entire text (every verse) of the Bible in 3 years – and do it synchronized with the RCL Sunday readings! I don’t think this is available anywhere else. Please have a look at Gloria's Webpage. Like my resources, Gloria's is available for free.

2. A core reference for RCL details is the paperback: The Revised Common Lectionary, The Consultation of Common Texts. Abingdon Press, Nashville. It's pretty much a 'must-have."

3. There is much-printed support literature for the RCL. One I particularly like and read fairly regularly is the quarterly periodical Pulpit Resource, by William Willimon (Methodist). Order online at Logos Productions.

4. Another computer-based resource I find helpful is Texts for Preaching, A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV. The resource is written by Walter Brueggemann, Charles Cousar, Beverly Gaventa, J. Clinton McCann, and James Newsome Jr. It's a CD-ROM that downloads onto any computer. To order, contact Cokesbury.

5. Another fine on-line tool is Preaching Today. It costs a few dollars each year but it's a bargain. It provides a lectionary section, indexed illustrations, and sermons.

6. I preached the lectionary for a few years before I found a convenient lectionary index in the order of biblical books. The book described in item 2 (above) has one, but I wanted it in electronic form so I could access it easily from my computer and smart-phone. It took me a while to find such an index; it's at the CRI Voice website. It wasn't exactly in the form I needed, so copied it electronically and edited it into a form I could put into a single Google Doc. You can download the file by clicking on RCL Scripture Index. With this tool, whenever I run across a teaching based on a particular scripture, I use this index to find if and when this scripture maps into the 3-year lectionary cycle. Then I can file the resource with that lection Sunday so it pops up when I enter the preparation window for that Sunday. Another use for this index is when I uncover a particular need in the church that a particular scripture addresses. Using this index allows me to quickly determine where it fits into the lectionary calendar. 

7. Of course, I also regularly use an electronic Bible and commentary. There are several good ones available; the one I use (and am happy with) is WORDsearch. One nice feature is its ability to insert scriptures into Word, PowerPoint, or other text-based applications without needing to open WORDsearch, browse to the scripture, and cut/paste it into your working document.

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, Unite 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