I’m frequently asked, “So how do you decide what to preach on?” There are a couple of good answers to that question, and at least two bad ones. The bad ones, of course, I make a point of avoiding: pick favorite Scripture passages to preach on over and over; or worse, decide what you want to say and then find a passage to let you say it! But in the Reformed theological tradition, one that Presbyterians follow, preaching isn’t supposed to be just what the preacher wants to talk about but a reflection of the depth and breadth of Scripture.
Many preachers, Presbyterian and otherwise, use the “common lectionary,” an ecumenical schedule of Scripture readings allocated for each week to guide preaching over a three-year period. It covers most of the Bible at least once in its course, and has the advantage of both engaging the congregation in the breadth of the Biblical witness AND making pastors preach on passages that they might not otherwise choose! That lectionary is where I typically start preparing sermons, and almost all of the sermon texts since I came to FPCB have come from the lectionary.
But the lectionary is not the only way to select Scripture. Another way is what’s called “lectio continua” (continual reading) in which you go systematically through an entire book of Scripture over a series of weeks. This was the preferred method of John Calvin, the 16th century founder of the Reformed tradition. He once took four years just to preach through the book of Acts! (Don’t worry, that’s not where I’m going with this.) Still another way to select Scripture is to go to the varied theological resources of our tradition to anchor choices for preaching.
For the next three weeks, I’m going to use the last of those methods in a sermon series centered around the Belhar Confession, the newest addition to the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s theological standards. Though it arose from the Church’s particular witness against apartheid in South Africa, it was included for its universal wisdom and insight about how to faithfully be the Church within the circumstances of the contemporary world. It centers around three themes: Unity, Justice, and Reconciliation.
One reason the Belhar Confession is so important is that it does not allow us to choose among those three; rather, it calls the Church to be faithful in steadfast witness to all of them. So, over the next three weeks, we will explore each theme, engaging the Scripture lessons from the Confession itself to see how they relate to one another and what they have to say to us here and now at FPCB. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you will, too!
Grace and Peace,