How to preach? Do not worry about the maths of the Bible and its verses (which are a human aid to reading the text). God's mathematics are embedded in the beauty of the cosmos and its myriads of atoms, not encoded into Scripture. Generally trust Bible publishers and translators. Understand that some parts of the published Bible, such as Mark 16:9-20, are worth reading even if we are not sure whether they are original to the hand of the author of Mark's Gospel.
Mark Chamberlain and I have returned from a lovely trip to the West Coast, leading two training sessions on preaching (Greymouth one night, Westport the next). Some feedback suggests the sessions went well. Particularly appreciated was the fact that we did not do all the talking! Apart from some discussion, some input via some excellent YouTube clips researched by Mark, on each night we had several preachers give five minute excerpts from sermons (followed by some appreciative feedback).
It was a great privilege to hear these sermon excerpts. The range of preachers included those new to the task and those very experienced. Among many things we reflected on, one thing stands out for me: there is no substitute for experience. Money can buy training videos and books. It can pay for the travel costs and stipends of people such as Mark and me (thank you to various trusts). But money cannot buy experience when it comes to preaching. So ...
... vicars and priests-in-charge, please, appropriate to your parish, make as many opportunities available to your lay preachers as possible ... lay preachers, take up all the opportunities you are given!
By some standards I am a bit too Protestant when it comes to the Blessed Virgin Mary. All Protestants including myself should honour and respect Mary in accordance with what Scripture teaches us about her, from being the one marked out by God to bear Jesus Christ, God incarnate, to the one who demonstrated in various ways before and after Jesus' birth that she was a singularly devoted servant of God. But this biblically grounded honour and respect is extended in the case of Mary (compared, say, to devoted servants of God such as Paul or Mary Magdalene) in some Christian traditions to a veneration of and a trust in a human person which, well, raises questions for me. The essential question being, is this extension supported by Scripture? In the communion of the saints in the days before Pentecost, for example, in the words of a great saint of my childhood and youth, the first Christians prayed with Mary and not to (or through) her (Acts 1)!
Well, be that as it may, I happily draw attention - a few days after Mary's feast, 15 August - to two reflections on Mary. One is by Bosco Peters, Anglican priest and Liturgy's presiding compiler, the other by Catherine Fox, ex-Baptist, clergyman's wife, and novelist.
Mark Thompson (Sydney) has blogged about a lecture given by Ashley Null (the world's foremost expert on Cranmer) in a series on repentance in classical Anglicanism. Mark writes (italics mine):
"I have always thought that Cranmer's emphasis on the unadorned reading of Scripture, the prominence of the lectionary in his liturgical reforms etc., was a product of his commitment to the clarity of Scripture (a commitment he held in common with the continental reformers, especially Luther). No doubt that is true but there is another stream that feeds this river.
In line with Fisher and Reuchlin, Cranmer apparently accepted an essentially neoplatonic understanding of Scripture. The Homily on Holy Scripture reveals his conviction that the Holy Spirit imparts saving grace through the administration of Scripture. God works supernaturally through Scripture to change lives. At one point he is even able to describe Scripture as 'the most holy relic remaining on earth' [This, in Cranmer's Preface to the Great Bible].
Hooker apparently held similar views. This reinforced the conviction that the centrepiece of Christian liturgy is the bare reading of Scripture. Scripture is read without comment or gloss, not only because it does not need them by virtue of its own clarity, but also because Scripture in and of itself is a means of grace. This stands somewhat in contrast to the 'Puritan' stress on the centrality of exposition and preaching."
Now, here is a question: how effective is Scripture as a means of grace when it is poorly read?
Bosco Peters is continuing an important series of posts on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), the second posted here.
I endorse all he says there, but wish to draw attention here to three matters (especially to colleagues, lay and ordained, in the Diocese of Nelson): two arguments for the use of the RCL in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, and a suggestion in respect of Bible teaching in parishes.
An obvious argument is that it is a matter of our church's canons that we use the lectionary. On page 409 of NZPB, for example, the rubric or liturgical instruction is "The appointed readings follow", which means that lectionary readings are to be used. By itself this rubric is not an argument for the use of the RCL because our church permits the use of a two year lectionary cycle as well as the three year RCL. But there are good arguments for the RCL being the better of the two lectionaries (e.g. because it offers a more comprehensive coverage of Scripture), so the combination of the rubric and the advantages of the RCL combine to be an argument for its use.
Bosco Peters introduces a very important second argument when he says,
"I think there is always a danger from some to turn liturgy into rubrical fundamentalism – always following the instructions of our liturgies to the letter solely because these instructions are there. I am far more interested in understanding the reasoning and principles underneath our rubrics (liturgical instructions). This post, hence, will look at some of the advantages of following the lectionary as well as examining some alternatives."
The importance of this introduction, of course, is that it explicitly proposes an argument with more depth and breadth of vision than a "these are the rules, keep them" argument (which the first argument above could be interpreted as being). Bosco goes on to make the argument that there is no better system than the RCL for systematically reading and preaching through as much of Scripture, as efficiently as possible, in the course of worship services.
His subsidiary argument is that some schemes for reading and preaching through Scripture, despite language and appearances to the contrary, are in reality inferior to the RCL. To give one example (following Bosco, but in my own words): a scheme for preaching through the Bible one chapter per week would take 1189 (chapters) divided by 52 weeks = 22.87 years. Even allowing for, say, avoidance of 305 chapters because they were repetitive, extremely boring, or pointless (e.g. all the chapters of Esther make just one point so one would not need to preach on each chapter), this scheme would still take 17 years!
Another argument of Bosco Peters is worth noting, but I do not think it is quite as compelling as the first two for evangelical Anglicans who, almost by nature, are not drawn to get excited about conformity with the larger community of Christians. This argument is that when we follow the RCL we join with the majority of the Christians of the world in reading the same passages on the same day. (Personally I like this argument very much: it is spiritually exciting to know that this particular 'unity-in-Scripture' is being shared around the world; and it is very Anglican to engage in as much 'common prayer' with other Christians as possible).
An important suggestion
It could be objected by some evangelical Anglicans that preaching according to the RCL exposes the congregation to a series of short passages of Scripture, as well as compelling the congregation to hear three passages of Scripture each week, when the better value for expository preaching might be to have one reading, and for it to be a whole chapter. Thus an adherence to RCL might mitigate against a form of deep and learned expository preaching at length in the course of Sunday worship.
Bosco Peters' suggestion is that we take up a bigger vision for the exposure of God's people to God's Word:
"The Sunday Eucharist ought not to be the only encounter that Christians have with the scriptures. Christians ought regularly to be encouraged to read a book as a whole, for example. Mark’s gospel, our focus this year for example, takes only little more than an hour to read. A Christian community can provide other opportunities for encountering the scriptures in a deeper way – not just individually or in small groups, but online. I am amazed when communities are not providing online resources and discussions to facilitate the deeper, ongoing, systematic, continual working through the scriptures to complement what is provided Sunday by Sunday in their common worship."
In other words, if the vicar wants to preach through Ezekiel chapter by chapter, other opportunities exist such as a Sunday night preaching service or a midweek lunchtime or evening Bible study meeting.
On Preaching and Worship - Anglican style Down Under I aim to post weekly, usually on or about Sunday. Mostly I post on some aspect of preaching and worship, often with a 'how to' angle (sometimes, especially if talking about my mistakes, with a 'how not to' angle)!
I see this blog as complementary to a very important website on worship matters, Liturgy, presided over by my friend and colleague Bosco Peters.
In my present role as Director of Education for the Diocese of Christchurch (NZ) I am not tied to one parish so some Sundays I am a parishioner in the pews and other Sundays I am preacher or presider or both. If you have been to church with me recently please do not think I am blogging about that service (unless I explicitly do so). It is likely, however, that something in the service has got me thinking about how we can better prepare for worship, lead liturgy, and preach God's Word. We serve God. Why not aim to do it to the very very best of our ability?
The Liturgy site listed below is presided over by Bosco Peters, Chaplain of Christ's College, Canterbury. The Lectionary and Worship Matters pages are part of the Liturgy site, but listed separately for your convenience. The gift of these resources from Bosco to our church (indeed, to all churches) is gratefully acknowledged.
Digital NZ Prayer Book Project
Courtesy Bosco Peters, go here to access portions of NZPB electronically.
Postings on this blog will mostly be on the following areas: - Worship Leading - Preaching - Being Anglican - The Lectionary - Scripture (especially on the Gospel for the year: St Matthew (2008), St. Luke (2007).
Previously numbered posts can be found in the archive.
Two Year Cycle - the cyle of readings in the NZPB associated with Sunday themes, Sentences and Collects
ACANZP - Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia
NZPB - A New Zealand Prayer Book (or the 1989 'Red Book' of ACANZP
RCL - Revised Common Lectionary (3 year cycle)
Continuous - (in the RCL) mostly continuous reading of the Old Testament with that reading independent of New Testament readings
Related - (in the RCL) Old Testament reading and the psalm are related to the Gospel reading of the day
Words to encourage liturgy and preaching
It helps enormously to have not only the discipline of the daily Offices, the daily Eucharist here, but actually a praying community. Prayers are offered quite early. Every morning, therefore, I have an opportunity to remind myself that what matters is not the Church of England or the Anglican Communion but the act of God in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. When I am inclined to think that the whole thing is falling apart and that I am making a more than usually bad job of it, the transforming thing has got to be, and in my experience always is, renewing a sense of gratitude. Whether the Church of England survives or not, whether the archbishop of Canterbury survives or not, Christ still died on the cross and rose again, and that’s enough to keep you going for quite a few lifetimes. Archbishop Rowan Williams
O Almighty God,you have built your Churchupon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined togetherin unity of spirit by their teaching,that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you;through Jesus Christ our Lord,who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever.
(Collect for St Simon and St Jude - originally in the 1549 BCP)