Sunday, August 29, 2010

Listening to the Lectionary

I’m a lectionary preacher. Not that every sermon rises out of the assigned lessons, but I always start there. Circumstances can send me off on another track, but even then, providentially it would seem, the lectionary sometimes provides a pertinent word.

In my last post, I wrote, “There’s a lot of meditation and contemplation that goes into a sermon.” It helps to read texts frequently so you get inside them as much as they are inside you. The sermon text then is never far from the surface of consciousness. It tugs at the preacher’s mental sleeve nagging for another thought, another brief meditation on its meaning, one more contemplation of what God is saying to the preacher and to the people. This sort of meditation can wake one up in the middle of the night.

Yet there is a more formal sort of meditation as well. It’s nothing new, of course. I learned about it in Sunday School when I had to memorize the First Psalm. There was that line about those who “delight in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.”

Taking time to think and pray about the biblical texts for next Sunday through the week is an essential. It is a way of listening to the lectionary, or more accurately, listening to the Sprit speaking the Word in scripture. Obviously this is worth pursuing in the course of sermon preparation, if not at other times.

This is akin to an ancient practice that has become fashionable again: Lectio Divina. Benedictine monks would indulge regularly in a measured reading of Scripture with time to ponder its meaning. They named this spiritual style of reading, Lectio Divina, which can be translated as “divine reading,” “sacred reading,” or “holy reading.”

There is a process to Lectio Divina. One begins with reading the text with concentration (Lectio); then there is time for pondering what God is saying in the text (Meditatio); next one has a sort of conversation with God in prayers of listening and commitment (Oratio); finally there is a quiet concentration on the presence of God, and peace (Contempatio). Not a bad guide for those pondering the texts in preparation for preaching from them.

The most interesting thing about this is that meditation on the biblical text is carried over into the Lord’s Day worship. Everyone, not only the preacher, is to ponder the meaning of what is read and to make that pondering personal.

The Book of Common Worship (1993) flags this when it suggests that the reading of scripture be prefaced with a “Prayer for Illumination.” The prayers provided are all invitations to participate in a Lectio Divina sort of process.

The reading of Scripture is introduced with the rubric and announcement:
“The reader may then say:
“Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.”
Each passage is followed by a proclamation that the reading has presented the “Word of God” with a response of thanks from the people—and then the rubric: “Silence may be kept.” All of this suggests a Lectio Divina kind of approach.

My experience in the pews these days is that pausing for silent reflection following the hearing of Scripture is more neglected than observed. I think it has a real place in our worship. I wish that the rubric here would have been more directive than permissive and said: “Silence is kept.”

Listening is a vital ingredient in Christian worship. In a time when we are besieged by words, words, words, it is easy to miss the Word whispered by the Spirit.

In your worship service, is there silent time to take quiet counsel with God on the Scripture readings?

1 comment:

  1. I use a very similar preparation process except I take Monday off. Never on Monday.
    Personally, I do not like preaching from the lectionary and use biblical texts, biblical themes, or topical subjects. Usually, I prepare a sermon series about 10 weeks in advance, working in special sermons for the seasons. This summer I preached on one text only, Hebrews13:1-9, pointing out the different kinds of love mentioned there (philadelphia, philoxenia, love of money, marriage love etc.). The last one was "Don't be misled by strange teachings" and I commented on Beck's latest attempt to sully the message of MLK and pretend that he is one of God's prophets.


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