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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ask The Matriarch- It's already Thursday!

Greeting and welcome to Ask the Matriarch! I’m filling in for a few weeks, so I have two requests:

1) Bear with me
2) If I’m not doing this the right way, please let me know!

On to the question for the day:
I'm a pre-Seminarian (hoping to start in August), and I'm getting plenty of ministry practice time in at my home church. The sermons I've preached thus far have been for specific dates – Ash Wednesday, Mother's Day, etc. which have provided clear direction for sermon topics. My pastor doesn't use the lectionary, and only occasionally does a sermon series. Starting in September, I'll likely get a turn in the pulpit every 4-6 weeks.

This means that if I have a random Sunday to cover (like I do on July 15), I have no parameters. Freeing, on the one hand, but without years of experience and training to draw on, it's a little intimidating. I'd love 2-3 approaches to answering the question "what are you going to preach?"

Answering the last question first, PPB offers this:
I had a lovely friend in seminary--one of those seersucker suits with bow ties and a honey-sweet accent---who used to answer the question, "what are you going to preach about" with this. "sin...........(long pause)..........I'm against it."

As for the bulk of the question, there appear to be two main suggestions.

1) Preach the lectionary anyway.
PPB suggests, “It doesn't have to be an all or nothing thing. Just choose to use it yourself. The reason I recommend this (even though I am in no way married to the lectionary myself) is that you can make yourself crazy choosing a text otherwise, and you have more things to worry about than what text you're going to choose. Once you pick the text, the sermon is about the Bible. So your answer to "what are you preaching on?" is Luke 15, or Psalm 25. The only trick to using the lectionary when the other pastor isn't is you run the risk of duplicating one of his texts--so just ask---"I'm wanting to preach on this text in October, and this on in December--I'm just checking to be sure they don't overlap with what you're doing?"

Jan thinks that, “The lectionary is a great tool for teaching, especially during advent, lent. You could introduce ‘the suggested lessons of the day’ and start a revolution. “

2) Create your own sermon series.
Jan: “You could also preach a series like a serial novel -- they only get new episodes every 4-6 weeks. And this may not be as disruptive as it sounds. For example, I know a pastor who preached a series on addiction using one of the twelve steps once/month. On "his Sunday" he preached on one of the 12, and being so intense, it was probably better for the congregation to hear these sermons once a month rather than 12 weeks in a row. You could preach a series on "stories nobody ever preaches" which could also be intense (I'm thinking of Phyllis Trible's Texts of Terror) and better in small doses than every week for several weeks.”

And PPB: “Choose a sermon series for yourself, and then people will know that when the intern preaches, it will be her/his series on "women in the Bible" or "Psalms". By and large,though, I think this is harder to do than just running with the lectionary. I did, though, spend one year covering a church on the first Sunday of every month (and 3 others took turns with the other Sundays), and I just did a Psalm sermon every single time. I happened to choose the lectionary Psalm, but the folks did sort of know what to expect and even started requesting favorite psalms. It can be done.

The common advice? Enjoy this preaching opportunity.

So how about the rest of you? Other suggestions?
I’ve been a lectionary preacher for more than ten years, but the Head of Staff at my intern church (an excellent preacher) thought the lectionary was a crutch. So how about it?


  1. My dad's response to "what's your sermon about" was "about 20 minutes."


    This summer while filling in for a pastor on sabbatical I went with the lectionary because a)that's what they do at that church and 2)it's just easier sometimes...

  2. My denomination always uses the lectionary, so that's what I do. If not I really would have to find someway to anchor myself for Sunday's - it would just be overwhelming otherwise...

  3. Being the Son of a Southern Baptist preacher, my dad and I have had this discussion before. He's from the old school and believes that you text selection should come from prayerful interaction with the holy spirit. Being an Episcopal priest, I use the lectionary. For me, it is helpful because it is part of something that is bigger, greater, and more then me. The congregation is not subjected to my presumption that the parts of scripture I'm dealing with at any moment is what they need to hear. On the other hand, my Dad's method does increase the dependence one feels upon the Spirit for guidance. The lectionary, being a human construction, is of course just as fallen as we are. Therefore, there is merit to looking solely to the Spirit for guidance.

    As an Anglican I would look for the via media between these two positions. Shoot for both/and rather then either/or.

  4. I find the lectionary a challenge, it forces me to engage with some of the more uncomfortable passages, I also value the connectedness it brings throughout the world people are speaking from and praying over the same scripture.

  5. I start with the lectionary and, if the Spirit isn't speaking to me through those passages, I pick something else. Sometimes I pick lectionary passages from Sundays in Ordinary Time that we would otherwise miss and do them on a different Sunday --like all those Sundays after Epiphany we'll be missing next year since Lent is so early in 2008.

    Sometimes I will do a sermon series, like one I did late last year on "Ministry Killers: Sex, Money and Power."

  6. My seminary training left me with a deep respect for the lectionary as a way of 1) helping me choose a text without always preaching a few favorites and 2) helping me feel grounded in my preparation...lectionary help is easy to come by. It's always my "go to", but sometimes another passage will speak to me or an occasion will demand it.
    A seminary friend, when asked what he was preaching on, always answered, "Jesus!" Gee, thanks.

  7. Here's a website you may find useful. is a site for friends, families, and those who suffer from various addictions.

  8. Here's a thought: Preach on what is LEFT out of the lectionary....
    which is quite a bit....

  9. To totally butcher a quote from the late great W S Coffin, "Of course the lectionary is a crutch. What would make me think I don't limp?"

  10. I preach from the lectionary for many of the reasons already mentioned. As Gordon Lathrop said at FOH, the lectionary is a ancient practice reminding us that these texts belong to the community. The lectionary keeps me "honest," and away from always preaching those texts that are my favorites or are easier, and makes me struggle with texts that I would normally shy away from. Often, I find there is a deeper spiritual reason why I struggle with a particulary hard text, and that is often times where the sermon lies, and also my own growth.

    That said, I will sometimes go off lectionary for special occasions. For example, in a few weeks we will be celebrating the first baptism in a few years at this church, and so I will go off lectionary and preach from a baptism passage since the sermon will partly be a teaching sermon on what baptism is and what it isn't.

  11. As an Episcopalian in Lutheran clothing, I love the lectionary because I find the Holy Spirit speaking to me so often in it. But when you are new to preaching, it is always good to have the wisdom of others at your back. Try studying the lectionary and see what you can make of it. If it isn't speaking to you, find something that will. I like the William Sloan Coffin quote. We all limp at sometime in this and we all crawl before we walk. Use the helps that are available to you.

  12. You can use Thomas Bandy's Introducing the Uncommon Lectionary, if you are looking for something different.

  13. I like Abi's idea. Along the same lines, I have a fantasy about creating "Year D" - passages that are omitted from Years A, B, and C.

  14. I agree with all these comments about going off lectionary (I am not married to it, but we are seriously dating.).

    But if I was a seminarian, and a new one, I'd be doing lectionary.

  15. Listing, thanks for doing this!
    I love the lectionary, and I first loved it as a layperson around 1989 or so, when a mothers group at my church morphed into a weekly Bible study. I found it amazing how the lectionary and my life seemed to be so closely intertwined. I don't believe it's a crutch to preach from the lectionary. Living with the lectionary is a spiritual discipline, especially when you do it in community.
    I did a sermon series in May and June, and I missed the rhythm of lectionary preaching. It challenges me to look at texts I might like to avoid, and also to take a fresh look at familiar stories.
    That doesn't mean it's always easy, but I find it to be worthwhile.

  16. If you preach lectionary, there are a lot of sermon helps available either online or through sermon prep email lists. And even if the other preacher happens to cover the same passage, it's not very likely that the two of you will have the "same" sermon.

    Sometimes, three years later, there is relief that there's a sermon in the sermon barrel on that lectionary passage. :)

  17. About God and about 10 minutes - is the standard response here.
    And almost always Lectionary...the choice is too wide otherwise, and it is a wonderful discipline. Though I do struggle hugely with the lection for the evening (Second service). That IS all the bits that nobody wants to preach, and I can usually work out why with no trouble.

  18. This is a great question. In my humble opinion, for THIS situation, lectionary is definitely the way to go.

    I have been doing something else for almost a year now and I actually have missed the rhythmn of the lectionary.

    Great job Listing Straight!

  19. Listing - great job! Thanks!

    I'm another Episcopalian, so lectionary it is. However... not knowing your denomination (but clearly, not Episcoplaian)... we did a sermon series last year at my church that focused on phrases in the service - we were using some of the supplemntal materials for Lent, so we pulled out the liturgical ideas and highlighted those. It was really well received!

  20. I love the lectionary, find it a necessary corrective to the desire to ride my own hobby horse all the time. But sometimes it is awfully fun to have a sermon series (I especially like to do that in the summer).

    So my advice is: Lectionary first, but if the Spirit is leading you otherwise, Spirit wins.



  21. The quote from Cheesehead is great, I really enjoyed it.

  22. jledmiston

    If you decide to do a Year D, I'll be glad to help you put it together. When I have done some series, I find I am often preaching what is not in the lectionary, and not on purpose or choice per se, something about the Holy Spirit.

    But I do walk with a limp, something about fighting some angel at the bottom of the ladder.....


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