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I have been asked by several people which lectionary I use for our Sunday Scriptures. Some are less aware of the concept of a Lectionary, especially in more informal churches. When I began following a set of readings each Sunday, I had written an article for The Christian Standard Magazine entitled, “Let’s Read the Bible in Church.” This seems to be stating the obvious, but in many evangelical churches there is no set plan for reading Scripture as a part of worship, even though it is clearly commanded:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, ESV)
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13, ESV)
I have heard objections that following a Lectionary is something formal (liturgical) churches do, liberal churches do, or Roman Catholic churches do. All I can answer to these sorts of objections is that, apparently then, formal, liberal, and Catholic churches have more Bible in them than the average evangelical church!
A lectionary is simply a list of Bible readings on a schedule. Some lectionaries included Scripture for each day of the week, others for Sundays only.
I follow the Revised Common Lectionary which is available on Logos Bible Software and is also available here. There are several things to note:
“And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand.” (Nehemiah 8:4, ESV)
“Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places.” (Nehemiah 8:7, ESV)
These are admittedly difficult to read, but it is the responsibility of the reader to learn their pronunciations, practise them, and read them.
“Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”” (Genesis 15:13–16, ESV)
“the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”” (Genesis 15:19–21, ESV)
These are clearly passages that speak of God’s judgement upon the nations, which although is historical fact and God’s right to do so, is troubling in modern times.
It is my policy to always read the full reading so as not to diminish or lessen the impact of God’s Word.
One of the greatest advantages of following a lectionary is it forces the preacher to read texts that they might otherwise never read in public. I am also well-aware that for many Christians, these Bible passages will be the only Bible heard or read in their week.
A little exercise for men who preach.
It is common for preachers to have much more in their minds when approaching sermon preparation and delivery than they can say. We are often guilty of preaching “the right message from the wrong text.”
I suggest this little exercise for preachers who are preparing a message. (This won’t work for a topical sermon, which is another issue and subject to other criteria). This exercise is for men who are preaching expository sermons.
Imagine your sermon is recorded on audio only. It was edited poorly so that the reading of your sermon text is cut off. The listener has no idea what your text is.
Now consider your sermon: when listening through the average serious message, 35 minutes or so, could the hearer, from your sermon, figure out the passage your sermon is based upon? Does your message arise from the text in such a way that the hearer (at least the Biblically informed hearer) can find the passage, or a parallel passage to your text? Could those who are not familiar with the Bible at least know you are basing it on something, basing your message on something that is missing?
If you must honestly answer “no” to this question, please read on:
The reason this is important is that much of preaching today is assumed to be Biblical because a passage is read before, and then the message commences; and never the twain shall meet! The ideas, concepts, lessons, stories from the sermon itself may be excellent, even Biblical, but are they Biblical from that text?
Expository preaching has been called lazy by some mega-church pastors. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, or I don’t have the gift of gab and can “shoot from the hip” with my stories and illustrations, but I find expository preaching to be the most rewarding and challenging preparation I do.
Whether or not it is the sole cause of Biblical illiteracy in the church, I do find that fewer men are preaching expository sermons. The present day’s urgency pushes us toward passages that somehow seem to answer immediate needs. But are the immediate needs we perceive to be most important the same as those God says is important? Preaching through the Word can be a guard against preaching to immediate crises only, while still addressing those crises. Expository preaching can uncover what lies beneath and prevent us from making the Bible come off as a book of advice-giving fables.
It is an easy thing to look up topics in a topical Bible or a concordance, but it is very hard to gather verses together that don’t violate their own contexts. Thus proof-texting that doesn’t supply valid proof can become the norm.
So listen to your sermon. Does it flow logically from the text? Does the text supply the outline? What is the context—immediate (previous and following chapters or paragraphs) and the context of the book in Biblical history (OT or NT is the most obvious, but there are other contexts); what is the genre of the passage? What is it’s historical context? How is the passage used in the rest of Scripture? What are other passages that parallel the one you are expositing?
A Bible passage is not a diving board from which one takes a great bounce and leap into the unknown pool of our own ideas.