The Revised Common Lectionary is an ecumenical list of scripture readings for use in Sunday worship. There are many, many advantages to using the lectionary.
- You don’t get stuck in a rut of your favorite passages.
- Your congregation gets a balanced exposure to the entire Bible over a three-year cycle.
- The Scripture texts always relate to the church season.
- The overall structure of worship reenacts the life and ministry of Jesus Christ over the course of each year.
- The biblical content of worship increases.
The lectionary has four texts for each Sunday. You can have a rotating list of lay readers to place lay people in conspicuous leadership roles, which builds their commitment to the church and helps it grow. You can have the congregation read the psalm as a responsive reading, which takes them out of the passive role of being an audience and puts them into the active role of worshipping.
These are wonderful things, but when it comes time for the sermon, how are you going to preach on all those texts?
One solution is to read all four texts, but just preach on one or two of them. You get the benefits of lay leadership and congregational response, but then you have the problem of Bible texts that don’t quite seem to be relevant to the service.
Another solution is to cut down on the number of readings so that the congregation only hears the texts you are preaching on. That makes the service more coherent, but it eliminates the need for lay readers and it may eliminate the congregational response.
So I would like to introduce you to my method of preaching on all four lectionary texts in the same sermon. This not only allows you to enjoy the advantages of lay leadership and congregational response, it also grounds your sermon more firmly in the Bible. And it actually simplifies sermon preparation!
Find the Lectionary Texts
To begin, you need to find the lectionary texts for the Sunday on which you are preaching.
Read and Study the Texts
Read and study each text individually. Don’t worry about how they might relate to each other. That comes later.
Find Preaching Points for Each Text
For each individual text, list all the things that stick out, that appear to be missing, that the writer assumes we already know, that are obscure, and that need explanation because we live in different circumstances. Here are some examples:
- Something That Sticks Out:
In Matthew 28, Jesus instructs His disciples. Some worship Him. Others doubt, even though He is resurrected from the dead and standing right there in front of them. Yet Jesus gives all the disciples the same Great Commission.
- Something That Appears to Be Missing:
In Revelation, there is a Book of Life, but there is no Book of Death.
- Something That Is Obscure:
In the parable of the talents, the master is angry with the servant who buried his talent in the ground. Under rabbinical law at the time, if someone gave you valuables for safe-keeping, and you buried them, you did not have to pay the owner back if someone stole them. In other words, burying things was a way of evading responsibility for them.
- Something the Writer Assumes We Already Know:
The writers of the gospels do not explain what demon possession is or what demons are. They only recount the exorcisms.
- Something That Needs An Explanation:
In the modern world, adoption makes you an heir. In the ancient world, adoption made you an heir, but more importantly, it also gave you your adopted father’s power of attorney. Adopted sons were business agents who, years down the road, received an inheritance—in other words, responsibilities now, goodies later.
Arrange the Texts to Form an Outline
Now that you have a good idea of what you would preach on each text if it stood alone, look to see if there is any thematic relationship among the texts. Arrange the texts to form an outline.
Revise the Preaching Points
Now that you have an idea of what your sermon is about, go over the preaching points again. Revise them so they fit together. You may have to add or delete some of them. Most likely you will find that you want to emphasize one of the texts and use the others to corroborate the theme.
On 10 August 2003, the lectionary readings were as follows:
- 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
- Psalm 130
- Ephesians 4:25-5:2
- John 6:35, 41-51
Here is how I applied my method to my own sermon.
I Read and Studied the Texts
- The passage from 2 Samuel is the sad story of Absalom. David had to oppose his son Absalom militarily, because Absalom was leading a rebellion against him, but he cared about his son and asked his commander-in-chief to go easy on him. Meanwhile, Absalom got trapped in the branches of a tree. Some soldiers on David’s side caught up with him and killed him since their task was to put down the rebellion. David won the war but grieved the loss of his son.
- The psalm fits with the reading in 2 Samuel, because it expresses grief, but it also contains hope for forgiveness and redemption.
- In the epistle, the church receives instructions about how to live together as a body. Each rule is followed by a justification or reason.
- In the gospel, Jesus claims to be the Bread of Life. He meets up with skepticism from people who think they know all there is to know about Him.
At this point, the texts don’t seem to be topically related.
I Found my Preaching Points
- 2 Samuel is a good description of a dysfunctional family. In this case, the dysfunction resulted from David’s sin. In the background, David’s wives were competing with each other by trying to put their sons in power. The incidents in the narrative become the preaching points for this passage. I thought I might want to explain in passing why the Cushite messenger had to frame the news of Absalom’s death as good news.
- The psalm observes that no one is righteousness to stand before God. Therefore, our only hope is in God’s forgiveness.
- The epistle reading consists of several pieces of advice, each one with a reason or a justification. These become the preaching points.
- In the gospel reading, our preaching point is Communion, how it unites us with Jesus and with each other, and how outsiders might not understand it.
I Arranged the Texts to Form an Outline
For this sermon, I took my topic from the gospel reading. I decided to preach on the church as the body of Christ. I preached as follows:
- I exhorted the church to live together harmoniously, using all the points in the text from Ephesians. I praised the church for everything that they are doing right, according to Ephesians.
- I reminded the church that if we fail to obey God’s commandments, our common life can become dysfunctional, like David’s family life in 2 Samuel.
- I digressed to concede that real life is somewhere between Ephesians and 2 Samuel. We try hard, but we mess up from time to time. For that reason, we must rely on God for forgiveness, and we must forgive each other. This brings in Psalm 130.
- I meditated on the source of our corporate existence. Why are we a church and not just a group of individuals? The answer is that we get our corporate identity from Jesus Christ. He makes us one in His body and blood. Without him, we probably would have little in common. This comes from the gospel reading.
- I reminded the church that our corporate life comes from the One who loves us so much He died for us, and loved us even more that He came back from the dead to live with us. Therefore, in any way we may fall short, we can confidently admit it to Him and seek His help to improve.
- I concluded with a call to discipleship.