Joe Carter actually advances a “gotcha” argument. Which is really hard to do. He’s commenting on GQ playing gotcha with Sen. Rubio, but it goes far beyond that to real insight. Week in and out the preacher produces a sermon. And the core of any sermon is a proclamation. The simplest form of that proclamation is that Jesus is Lord. But we don’t exactly get what that means all the time. There are a bunch of other metaphors that the bible uses to talk about the proclamation. Jesus rose victoriously (Christ the victor). Jesus died for our sins (Christ the sacrifice). Jesus is the long expected prophet. Jesus is the bread of life. And a bunch of others. We call that bag of metaphors the gospel or taken out of Greek the good news. That proclamation is thrown out for faith to be awakened or the Spirit residing in us to respond to the truth.
And this is the point where Mr. Carter’s article is really good. Proclamations are usually followed with attempts to back them up. When I say Jesus died for our sins a natural question is why can I say that? My natural tendency would be to say lets look at the story. 1) Jesus claimed he could do this. 2) He gave that authority to the apostles. 3) He rose from the dead. That last point is the proof of his statements (i.e. the sign of Jonah). I could just as easily quote the Nicene creed – “I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins”, and say that this has always been the church’s teaching for 2000 years. Both of those answers to “Why?” are different and would/should be valid to different people.
Finding out which “whys?” resonate with people and using different ones is at the same time: a) respecting them and b) respecting the truth. A story way of saying this might be that paying attention to the “whys?” is the difference between the street preacher and the spiritual director. One flings out truth to largely deaf ears. The other seeks to let that truth illumine the life of the person under their direction. Figuring out when to be each is important.
Here is Ben Myers, Aussie Prof and preacher, on a problem with one of my favorite things, the lectionary.
First, he has a great hold on the difference between preaching and teaching. Preaching is about proclaiming. Teaching is about exploring. You can teach from the pulpit, but it better be a secondary feature. Second, he is absolutely correct that the lectionary presupposes a certain familiarity with the church year and its rhythms as well as the broad sweep of biblical history. Often times you are presented with the question do I spend 3 of my 12 minutes explaining (i.e. teaching) this church year, or would that be better used proclaiming the text? Third, he strikes too close when he mentions that preachers often pick themes based on connections that truthfully only highly trained people see. For me the connection between texts has to be hit over the head blatant to use more than one of the readings for sermon basis. The connections are the stuff for bible study with two-way communication.
Here are the “buts”. A minor first – in the reformed tradition the canon of the bible is set and as Prof. Myers says, “confessed to be divinely given”. As a Lutheran, our confessions never set the canon. We accept as inspired the books the church always has, but the order isn’t set in stone. That is why Luther could grouse about James and others about Revelation. The second but would be bigger. I don’t see it as part of my calling to teach a people so that the lectionary is profitable. Man wasn’t created for the lectionary, but the lectionary for man. If you are catechizing (fancy would for teaching) a people with little baseline knowledge, one of the first questions is where do you start? Do you need to know the OT to be a Christian? I think that is analogous to: do you need to be a Jew before you are a Christian? Acts 15 answered that with a no. A rough confirmation class taught me a few things there too. For me, the proclamation story is the story of Jesus found in the gospels. The goal isn’t to make the lectionary profitable although that might be a secondary outcome. The goal is to form a people who love the Word.
Last thought, to me with the Revised Common Lectionary (which we use a form with minor alterations just because we are who we are) you have the ability to do much of what Prof. Myers wants without leaving the cycle. You just do it from the Epistle lessons. For example during this past year we read continuously through 1 Peter and Romans. I preached on 1 Peter for 5 weeks and Romans for two groups of 4. Both of those works rest heavily on the OT as well. As Christians, we read the OT through the NT. We recognize and make use of the OT to support the gospel, but many of the things in the OT are signs and symbols that the fulfillment of has come. We proclaim the fulfillment. We can teach the larger story in less precious places than the Sunday pulpit. But that requires a people who love the Word.