Concise Lexicon of Christianity

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Teachings, worship, rites, sermons, and terminology

How to Preach the Lectionary

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.

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:

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.

An Example

On 10 August 2003, the lectionary readings were as follows:

Here is how I applied my method to my own sermon.

I Read and Studied the Texts

At this point, the texts don’t seem to be topically related.

I Found my Preaching Points

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 hope this will give you some ideas for devising your own method of preaching that uses all four lectionary texts for the day.

If you need to prepare a sermon on short notice or you want to preach with minimal notes, you can also consult How to Preach Extemporaneously, and combine the two methods.