Dear Church Family,
I have been inviting you to share with me anything you’d like for me to write about. Well, this article is a response to one of those questions, “How to get your sermons?” I am delighted to answer that question. I believe, if you are going to sit under someone’s ministry, you should know where they come from in terms of their personal testimony and relative to how they prepare the message they bring each Sunday (or any other time).
First, let me share with you that I preach, with rare exceptions, from the lectionary. If you are not familiar with that term, let me share a bit about it. The lectionary is a three-year cycle of Scripture lessons. Most of the time, the lessons are taken from the Psalms, the Old Testament, the Epistles, and the Gospels. These lessons follow the Church year, beginning with Advent and moving through Pentecost. Following this calendar allows a preacher and congregation to experience the flow of God’s redemptive plan. Preaching from the readings have been a valuable discipline for me in that they keep me from relying too much of my “personal Bible”, that is, my favorite books, passages, etc. It also prevents me from selecting a certain text in order to advance some personal agenda of mine. So it is from the lectionary, then, that I prayerfully select the passage that I will preach from.
Once I know the lesson that the message will be taken from, I begin to study the text itself within its larger context. This includes several readings of it, which may then lead to deeper exploration of certain words, phrases, etc., as the Holy Spirit lifts them out for me.
The next step for me is to examine the witness of the early church with reference to the text or topic in question. I particularly explore the “Apostolic Fathers”. The Apostolic Fathers were contemporaries of the apostles and were probably taught by them, carrying on the tradition and teaching of the apostles themselves as their direct successors.
From the witness of the early church, I search out the Doctrinal Standards and General Rules of our own church. The Standards are 1) the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, 2) the Confession of Faith of the United Evangelical Brethren Church (with whom the Methodist Church merged in 1968 to form the present United Methodist Church), the Standard Sermons of John Wesley, and Wesley’s Explanatory Notes on the New Testament.
The Scripture, the early Church, and our own foundational documents. These are my “two or three witness”. I am delighted to say that the unity of the three consistently encourages me in my own walk with God and in confidently proclaiming to you the “faith once for all delivered to the saints”. But there’s more!
The final step in my sermon/ lesson preparation is to take all that I have studied before God with this prayer, “Father, what is Your NOW word for us?” I have come to believe that there is no new word from God. He has said all he has to say. I do, however, believe that He always has a now word for His people. By that I mean that what He has said and done in the past has life in the present to shape the future. Ours is to hear and obey!
Make it so, Lord! And start with me!