Most weeks, the lesson of choice for preaching is fairly obvious. It is my preference to preach from the Gospel on most occasions, but by the time we reach the 7th Sunday of Easter, it can become challenging to tie the lesson in with the season. We’ve long since run out of resurrection encounters, especially when they hold fast to this “1 Synoptic + John” mindset in the three-year lectionary cycle. We’ve been back in Holy Week, at the Last Supper, no less, for three weeks now. It is post-Ascension in the calendar, so we could tell one of those stories, but I guess that’s not as interesting to the RCL Cartel as a run-on sentence from John 17.
As I look at the other options for this Sunday, there’s the really interesting story from Acts (a staple in Eastertide) of Paul’s temper-tantrum putting him in jail and God providing a way out. From Revelation, we have a smattering on selected verses from the book’s final chapter. If one had been doing a series on John’s great vision, I suppose that could be a helpful bookend. On a short preaching week, with an Ascension Day Eucharist and wedding sermon staring at me as well, I find myself really struggling with which lesson to dive into for preaching this week.
In one of my preaching courses, Dr. Brosend taught us to ask the homiletical question, “What does the Holy Spirit want the people of God to hear from these texts on this occasion?” When the preaching process is easy. When the Gospel lesson is narrative. When the application is obvious. This question is fairly easy to answer, but on weeks like Easter 7C, when the lectionary seems to be conspiring against the preacher, the process takes a lot more time. I can’t just pull resources from my trusted sites on textweek.com and begin the percolating process. Instead, this week, amidst of the busyness of the many other demands that come with a stipend and full-time employment in the priestly vocation, I’ll be listening more carefully for what the Spirit wants the people of God to hear.
Dear reader, how do you choose? When the text isn’t obvious and the message isn’t clear, how do you discern what to preach? I’ll be praying for you as you do your homework. I invite you to pray for me as well.
You don’t have to be a lectionary preacher for very long to realize that a few stories carry a bit more weight than all the rest. John the Baptist gets a lot of love in the lectionary. Toward the end of the year, things get pretty heavy with the mini-apocalypses. This Sunday, we have another one of those lessons that gets a lot of air time, the story of the Transfiguration. Because it appears in all three Synoptic Gospels, the Transfiguration is an easy one to cycle in all three years. In the Lectionary, we hear it read every Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and we hear both Matthew’s and Peter’s versions of it read on the actual Feast of the Transfiguration.
It can be difficult to find new things to say about these oft-repeated lessons. The usual suspects seem to always appear. Peter’s befuddled comments make it easy to say “we can’t stay on the mountain top.” Moses and Elijah allow the preacher to talk a bit about the prophecy surrounding the Messiah. The terrible darkness is a point of entry, as is the dazzling white of Jesus raiment. But after ten years of Last Epiphanies, my initial reaction to the whole thing is
Writing this blog and my larger homiletical process have taught me that most of the time, I’m preaching to myself. What I write here and what I say in the pulpit are usually indicators of how I’m feeling or what I’m struggling with at any given time. Clearly, this whole post has been about me and my stuff, but I wonder if our people feel this too? Do those who don’t spend hours each week immersed in the Lectionary notice when these things pop up again and again? Do they hear something read on Sunday and say, “really, we’re doing this again?” Do they wonder how the preacher comes up with something new to say, or, rather, do they wonder why the preacher always seems to say the same thing when these things cycle back around?
Thankfully, I’m not preaching this week. In fact, given the content of the last three paragraphs, it is timely that I’m taking a vacation this weekend. As I wonder what else I might say here about the Transfiguration, I’m thankful that I share the pulpit with two really good preachers who I know put in the word of study and prayer, and especially for my colleague Becca, who will preach a fine sermon on a difficult set of passages this week. I’m praying for you, dear reader, and for the work you do.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you know that when I was ordained, I took a vow to “be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them” (BCP, 526). I take this vow very seriously, and though I’ve been known to skirt a rubric every once in a while, I’m not apt to do so without careful theological reflection. That being said, I really want to invoke the opinion of the Dean of the School of Theology at Sewanee who says that the Book of Common Prayer ends on page 808 and consider the rubrics concerning the Lectionary “back matter.” I’m especially interested in the penultimate line on page 888 which reads, “Any Reading may be lengthened at discretion.” Oh how I wish that it said “Any Reading may be shortened or lengthened at discretion.” I’d cut verses 16-19 and 25-27 from this Sunday’s Gospel lesson.
In the final part of Sunday’s lesson, Jesus promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, but I’m not sure that can be true given his prayer to the Father, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent” and the bit about children making fun of each other in the market place. The latter is so culturally dependent as to be impossible to not misunderstand and the former sounds so very closed minded and Gnostic. Thankfully, I’m not left to my own devices and by virtue of my ordination vows, I’m required to deal with the tough stuff from Jesus and not just preach fluff.
I was sharing all this with my Rector who chuckled and said, “what if God is hiding the Kingdom so we’re intentional about looking for it?” This is, I think, a great word for anyone who would take seriously the task of preaching the Gospel this week. Are we being intentional about seeking out the kingdom – sifting through and learning from the hard stuff as well? Or, are have we settled into a yoke that’s too easy and a burden too light?