Why I Use a Lectionary

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:

  1. There are three years of readings, and each year is identified as year “A” “B” or “C”. We are currently in year C.
  2. Each lectionary year begins with the first Sunday in Advent. So year “A” will begin the new year on November 27th, 2022.
  3. Each lectionary reading for a week includes an Old Testament Reading, a Psalm, a New Testament reading and a reading from a Gospel. After the Resurrection is celebrated, the Old Testament reading is substituted with another New Testament reading. This continues until Pentecost, eight weeks after Easter.
  4. The lectionaries are used by Anglican and Roman Catholic denominations, so it includes the Apocrypha. But the Apocrypha is not Scripture and should not be given the same respect, honour, and heed as Scripture, so I never use it. Whenever a book from the Apocrypha is listed, there is always a reading from the Bible suggested too.
  5. Some lectionary readings omit a few verses to either shorten the reading, or to remove readings that are too controversial or difficult.
    1. For example, the Old Testament reading for January 26th, 2022 was Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10. Why were verses 4 and 7 omitted? Here they are:

      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.

    2. A second reason some passages are left out is more troubling to me—modern lectionaries tend to avoid “hard sayings” and passages of judgement. On Sunday, March 13th, 2022 the reading is listed as, Genesis 15:1-12 and 17-18, but the complete reading should be Genesis 15:1-21. What is left out?

      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.

  6. I make some adjustments for holidays throughout the year. The most notable one is Thanksgiving, which is celebrated in November in the US and October in Canada. The Revised Common Lectionary follows the US pattern.
  7. It should be remembered that God’s Word, the Bible, is Scripture: it is inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient. The reading schedule is human, and can be adjusted without guilt.

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.

Am I Really Preaching the Bible?

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.

Notes on Psalm 107, Part 1

Psalm 107 has been one of my favourite Psalms for years. This little essay is only a preliminary study, and for those who are Old Testament exegetes, this is not a full consideration of the text (hence the “part 1” in the title). I will add a full outline later.

At the opening verse, we receive a command to give thanks for the Lord’s goodness, His Hesed (חֶסֶד), translated “steadfast love” (other translations may have it as “loving-kindness)” This term is found 249 times in the Old Testament, more than half of them in Psalms. It speaks of God’s faithfulness, goodness, love and commitment to His people. It is most often translated with two English words, “loving-kindness” or “steadfast love.”

Second, Psalm 107:2 & 107:3 tell us that He has redeemed His people from their enemies, and has regathered them, referring to the people returning from Babylonian captivity.

Third, there are four perils and resolutions, each containing a specific woe, a cry for help, God’s salvation from that peril, and a call to give thanks, and a description of His blessing:

  1. Exiles: Psalm 107:4-9

    1. Peril: this seems to refer to people who have been exiled and are without a place to live (4, 5); because the Babylonian exile was a judgement and punishment by God for unfaithfulness, it is implied that the exiles are to blame for their plight.
    2. They cried (צעק) to the Lord (6a)
    3. He delivers (נצל) them (6b). In doing this, He leads His people (7)
    4. Let them give thanks for His loving-kindness (8)
    5. A description of His blessing (9). He saves His people in the manner needed for their situation: He satisfies the longing for a place (home) to live.
  2. Imprisoned: Psalm 107:10-16

    1. Peril: in prison and in chains, near death, hard labour. The reason is stated that they were rebellious (10-12). It is clearly implied that God sent them to prison for their rebellion.
    2. They cry to the Lord. The term here is זעק, z’q, with similar meaning as צעק, ts’q. The two terms can sound very similar and are used this way for poetic emphasis as we will see below.
    3. God delivers them ישׁע, ysh’. This is a common word for “save,” and is the root for the name “Joshua” and, in Aramaic, “Jesus.” In saving His people, He brings His people out of the darkness and breaks bonds. Verse 14 uses the same word, יצא, “to bring out” as found in verse 28 below.
    4. Verse 15 is identical to verse 8: “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!”
    5. A description of His blessing (16). He saves His people in the manner needed for their situation. He shatters doors of bronze and breaks bars of iron.
  3. Illness due to sin: Psalm 107:17-22

    1. Peril: because of sin, they were physically sick. They either could not or would not eat in this condition, and they were near death. The Bible does not affirm that sickness is always caused by a specific sin, but this particular case indicates that the illness mentioned is due to sin.
    2. They cried (זעק) to the Lord (19a)
    3. He delivers them (ישׁע), ysha; He heals (רפא), raphe, them and delivers (מלט), malat, them. Note that this point the blessing is described, not at the end of the situation. This is a variation from the first two situations. In verses 19b-20 “he delivers” He heals” “He delivers”. The first term for deliverance is ysh’ again, then healing, then delivering them to a place of safety. They were near death due to illness brought on by sin, and God healed them. “Healing” is רפא, rph, to repair, rebuild, heal, cure.
    4. Verse 21 is identical to verses 8 & 15.
    5. Rather than a description of His blessing (deliverance and healing), there is a further exhortation to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and songs of joy (22)
  4. Peril at sea when doing business: Psalm 107:23-32.

    This is the longest of the four situations, and it is not a peril where a fault is found in the people who cry out to the Lord. These are merely men who are sailing ships and there is no implied fault or error.

      1. The sea is dangerous. It is clear that the situation was brought on by God Himself (25). “God commanded . . .” means that the “natural” events were in His control, whether for good or for ill (Matthew 8:23-27). The account of Jesus stilling the storm is followed by His healing two men who are demon-possessed (Matthew 8:28-34), and shows the reader that Christ, being God, is sovereign over both nature and the spirit world. Both the sea and the spirit world were places of chaos in common thinking at the time, and Christ is in control of both, in the same manner, God was in the Old Testament. This is the most surprising of the four situations, because there is no blame to be placed upon the characters, yet these sailors too, must cry out to the Lord.
      2. They cried (צעק), ts’q to the Lord. Note this pattern (all four are translated “cried”):

    A vs 6a: צעק
    B vs 13: זעק
    B’ vs 19: זעק
    A’ vs 28: צעק

    The use of the same word at the first and last unit would seem to indicate that these four units (situations) are to be understood as a whole, or a set. These four words would sound very similar to each other: vs 6a & 28 sounds like “tsach” and vs 13 & 19, “zach.”

  5. God delivers (יצא) yts’ them. This term for deliverance has the idea of “bringing out” of danger or captivity. This is the way this term is used repeatedly in Exodus, and other passages of “bringing out.” It is important to note this because in many places the term can also mean simply “to flow out” or “go out.” In this case, being “brought out” is out of the helplessness of the sea. He calms the storm, they are glad, and He brings them to port safely.
  6. verse 31 is identical to verses 8, 15 and 21.
  7. verse 32 is an expansion of the exhortation to give thanks and proclaim God’s deliverance to those who were not there to witness it. If those returning from the sea had not proclaimed God’s deliverance, the congregation and the elders would have known nothing of the peril at sea nor the deliverance.

Summary, interpretation and application.

  1. God calls us in all perils to cry out to Him for aid and to give thanks to Him.
  2. It is implied in two of the scenarios (1 & 3) and explicit in two (2 & 4) that the dangers, pain, suffering, longing, hopelessness, fear and despair are all brought by God against His people. In the fourth, however, it does not seem to be a judgement, but the end goal is the same: “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!” Psalm 107:8, 15, 21, 31.
    1. This should make us consider our thankfulness to God. All these calamities were sent that the people of God would cry out to Him, and that He would deliver them, and that they would be thankful.
    2. We should understand our circumstances as God’s means to bring us to thanksgiving.
    3. This should also bring us to an appreciation of the fact that nothing is outside of His control. There is no situation we may come to be in that we are not to cry out to Him. There is no cause of a situation (sin, rebellion, business) that closes God’s ears to His people.
    4. When we are in a situation of longing, wandering, prison (hemmed-in with no way out), burdened in labour, sick (especially due to our sinful behaviours); when we are going about our business and dangers arise—in all these we are to “cry out to the Lord,” then give thanks to Him.
  3. The use of five different terms for “deliver” is important. In order, they are natsal (6b), ysha (13), rpha (20), ytsa (28). Notice the wide breadth of meanings here: He pulls His people out; He moves His people out of prison; He heals His people; He brings them out of peril and bondage.
  4. God calls us in all perils to cry out to Him for aid and to give thanks to Him.
  5. It is implied in two of the scenarios (1 & 3) and explicit in two (2 & 4) that the dangers, pain, suffering, longing, hopelessness, fear and despair are all brought by God against His people. In the fourth, however, it does not seem to be a judgement, but the end goal is the same: “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!” Psalm 107:8, 15, 21, 31.

Full text:

107 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, ,

for his steadfast love endures forever!

        Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,

whom he has redeemed from trouble

        and gathered in from the lands,

from the east and from the west,

from the north and from the south.

        Some wandered in desert wastes,

finding no way to a city to dwell in;

        hungry and thirsty,

their soul fainted within them.

        Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

        He led them by a straight way

till they reached a city to dwell in.

        Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,

for his wondrous works to the children of man!

        For he satisfies the longing soul,

and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

    10     Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,

prisoners in affliction and in irons,

    11     for they had rebelled against the words of God,

and spurned the counsel of the Most High.

    12     So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;

they fell down, with none to help.

    13     Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

    14     He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,

and burst their bonds apart.

    15     Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,

for his wondrous works to the children of man!

    16     For he shatters the doors of bronze

and cuts in two the bars of iron.

    17     Some were fools through their sinful ways,

and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;

    18     they loathed any kind of food,

and they drew near to the gates of death.

    19     Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

    20     He sent out his word and healed them,

and delivered them from their destruction.

    21     Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,

for his wondrous works to the children of man!

    22     And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,

and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

    23     Some went down to the sea in ships,

doing business on the great waters;

    24     they saw the deeds of the Lord,

his wondrous works in the deep.

    25     For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,

which lifted up the waves of the sea.

    26     They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;

their courage melted away in their evil plight;

    27     they reeled and staggered like drunken men

and were at their wits’ end.

    28     Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

    29     He made the storm be still,

and the waves of the sea were hushed.

    30     Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,

and he brought them to their desired haven.

    31     Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,

for his wondrous works to the children of man!

    32     Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,

and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

    33     He turns rivers into a desert,

springs of water into thirsty ground,

    34     a fruitful land into a salty waste,

because of the evil of its inhabitants.

    35     He turns a desert into pools of water,

a parched land into springs of water.

    36     And there he lets the hungry dwell,

and they establish a city to live in;

    37     they sow fields and plant vineyards

and get a fruitful yield.

    38     By his blessing they multiply greatly,

and he does not let their livestock diminish.

    39     When they are diminished and brought low

through oppression, evil, and sorrow,

    40     he pours contempt on princes

and makes them wander in trackless wastes;

    41     but he raises up the needy out of affliction

and makes their families like flocks.

    42     The upright see it and are glad,

and all wickedness shuts its mouth.

    43     Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;

let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.