All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
A little over ten years ago, The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area ordained me to the office of Minister of the Word and Sacrament. Over those ten years, I have preached my share of sermons. My process for preparing for sermons has changed dramatically over the years.
Initially, I used to preach “as the Spirit led.” I chose scripture and topics based on how I felt God was communicating to me that particular week. You may not be aware, but protestant ministers have essentially two choices when selecting sermon scriptures. They can choose to follow “God’s direction” each week. Or, they can choose to follow a predetermined schedule of scripture readings, the most popular such schedule being the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Initially, I chose to follow the former. I viewed the RCL as a “human creation” that only served to stifle the Holy Spirit’s guidance to me.
Over time (and it didn’t take very long), I noticed that my method was fairly ineffective. I really wasn’t listening to the Spirit at all. I was choosing to preach the scripture passages that I liked. If I didn’t care for a passage, I wouldn’t preach from it. If the topic challenged me, or made me feel uncomfortable, I chose something else that felt less “controversial.” So, my sermons began to sound the same: similar topics, similar points, similar take-aways for the congregation. My sermons essentially reduced the entirety of scripture to about three or four themes (if that many). Essentially my method was lazy. And, this self-centered method effected my level of research and my level of writing. I became a lazy, half-hearted preacher.
I then decided that I would “submit” to the RCL. The RCL is a three year cycle. Each Sunday, during those three years, there is a Gospel Reading, Old Testament Reading, a Psalm, and an Epistle. And, very quickly, I found that this cycle encouraged me to examine ALL of scripture, instead of only my favorite passages. Plus, I came to the realization the Holy Spirit was at work through the RCL. The council of churches that determines the RCL have been guided by the Holy Spirit to help ministers, like myself, communicate the entirety of scripture to our congregations. And, many other ministers in our community preach the same cycle, so it gives me a great excuse to meet with other ministers to discuss scripture (which I do every Tuesday morning with Rev Jocelyn and ten or so other ministers at Café Mosaic).
As of September 9th of this year, I will have been at PCW for three years. So, with the exception of a few sermon series, I preached through the entirety of the RCL in my time here. So, after Labor Day weekend, I have the choice to either start the RCL over again. Or, choose another direction.
After some time in prayer, I have discerned that God is leading me to give a new schedule a chance. And, there is a new cycle that has been increasing in popularity for some time: The Narrative Lectionary (NL). The NL is a four year cycle (one year for each Gospel record) that begins with Genesis and culminates with Revelation. It examines scripture as one whole “Story” and will guide us more “chronologically” through that Story. But, don’t worry, Christmastide will still focus on the Nativity story and Easter on the Resurrection.
There are a couple of things I really like about the Narrative Lectionary (even though I have admittedly not yet used it):
One: More focus on books of the Old Testament and Epistles. This will direct me to preach more on passages that I have yet to address in sermons at PCW. During the RCL these past three years, I have heavily favored the Gospel passage while the OT, Psalm and Epistle took a back seat. The Gospel writings will still be significant, but the other parts of the Bible will get their day in court as well.
Two: I believe the NL will help the congregation get a better overall picture of ALL scripture. It will help us all understand how historical books of the Old Testament relate to the letters of the Apostle Paul, etc. In essence, I believe it will give us a greater understanding of the intention of the Biblical writers and a better appreciation of the Divine Design of God through history and how that impacts our future in discipleship.
I will begin preaching from the Narrative Lectionary on Sunday, September 11th. Don’t worry! If you miss a Sunday during this four year cycle, you won’t get lost! I won’t need to do a previous Sunday “recap” like television shows (“Last week at PCW…”). Each Sunday will have its own specific and unique focus and message.
If you are reading this and have not joined PCW yet for worship, I pray that this might encourage you to pay us a visit.
For more information on the Narrative Lectionary, you can click HERE.
I am looking forward to this journey with you. And, I hope and pray that this cycle will increase your appreciation of the Bible and enhance your overall worship experience.
Blessings in Christ,