What’s with the lectionary in Lent?

What is going on with the lectionary during Lent?

This Sunday and the next couple, the gospel text is nearly 40 verses long or longer. I realize these are extended stories, but really? It is not the reading time that bothers me, so much, but the challenge of coming to a clear focus for a sermon when the congregation has just been given 40 verses. No matter what I preach, there are going to be scads of questions or loose ends. And if I try to tie those up, the sermon will be a mess.

I realize this is the challenge every week we preach. No sermon ever says everything that could be said or even needs to be said.

But, still. Ouch. Three weeks in a row. Ouch.

How dare we speak

We should never presume to occupy a pulpit unless we believe in this God. How dare we speak, if God has not spoken? By ourselves we have nothing to say. To address a congregation without any assurance that we are bearers of a divine message would be the height of arrogance and folly. It is when we are convinced that God is light (and so wanting to be known), that God has acted (and thus made himself known), and that God has spoken (and thus explained his actions), that we must speak and cannot remain silent.

– John Stott, Between Two Worlds

Preaching as world building

What does this article tell us that can inform the way we think about preaching?

The article is about the TV series Marvel: Agents of SHIELD. The point of the article is that the series had to spend time “building a world” before it could start to do really fun, deep, and interesting things that some of the audience has been waiting for the series to do.

It made me wonder how much preaching is like building a world. How much of it is constructing a coherent story about what the world and helping the people in the congregation see themselves as living in that world?

I think Walter Brueggemann would say that is precisely what preaching is about. He writes that each Sunday when the congregation hears the word read and the message proclaimed the question hanging in the air is whether the people will be formed by the world the story tells or be formed by the story the Bible tells. Preaching is world building.

If this is so, then the insight of the article about the TV show might have a lesson for us. You can’t go off on wild adventures in a world until you have established the basic contours of the place and the major characters. You have to establish the basics first. (There is a metaphor here about jazz and music, but I’m not musical, so I’ll leave it to someone else to make.)

It leaves me with a question about whether I’ve got the basic world building in place for the congregations in which I preach. Have I helped them see and describe the world the Bible builds for them? If not, what do I need to do? Where are the fuzzy places and undeveloped characters in God’s story? How can I make God’s world real enough that the real adventures can begin?