November 21, 2004
Deja vu all over again

This morning, after some dithering, I went through the same routine as I did last Sunday: up to All Saints for Centering Prayer and then the service. It turned out to be even more like last week than I expected though. The lessons that were read to us -- the Epistle, the Psalm and the Gospel reading -- were exactly the same as they were last week.

Now, I went through an entire liturgical year with the Lutherans, who seem to have the same calendar and lectionary schedule as the Anglicans (and Catholics), and I don't remember it ever repeating like this. I don't know who determines it, but I was under the impression it was set from high up. Moreover, today isn't any old Sunday -- it's Christ the King Sunday, which wraps up the liturgical year before Advent begins the new one next week. Yet there was no mention of this.

What's going on? I didn't get a chance to ask anyone, and I've been trying to fight the cynical interpretation that this is a case of pastoral ego. The assistant rector who preached last week (the same one who leads my Beta course, incidentally) said that he was going to continue his sermon this week, and sure enough he did. If he rearranged the calendar so he could have enough time to elaborate on his brilliant thoughts, that is so ... so low church. It reminds me of the discussion recently with Dash and Dwight over the use of Power Point in sermons, and what liturgical function sermons are actually supposed to serve. Here's Dwight:

But I don't think that the sermon is the time to transmit information. I think the point of the sermon is to speak the gospel into the life of the hearer(s). That may involve instruction as a feature, but it is primarily a different thing. Liturgy is a conversation between the Word of God (mediated by the preacher) and the hearer. (In the beginning was the Conversation -- a valid translation of John 1:1 -- and that conversation continues today.) The sermon is a part of that conversation. And while some conversations include instruction (i.e., didactic content), the chief point of a sermon is not to do so. It is to relay God's part in a conversation. ...

If a pastor needs a quotation that is so complex that it can't be understood in a couple of hearings (which means: read it twice), then the pastor doesn't need it. If the outline is so complicated that it must be written down to be absorbed, it's too complicated. If the pastor can't get the message across conversationally without props, then she doesn't have the right message. (Yes, I do mean that literally.)

And if the pastor has to drag it out to two Sundays to get the point across, it's really too complicated. Maybe I'm overreacting, maybe this is all standard practice for Anglicans and I don't realize it, but it got under my skin. It seems like another case of evangelical attitudes seeping in where they don't belong. Though since the rector is apparently from the "evangelical" wing of Anglicanism, maybe I shouldn't be surprised ...

Posted by Camassia at November 21, 2004 03:43 PM | TrackBack

Yes, Sister, if the preacher can't get it said in one sermon, it is too complicated. (Of course, there is a sense in which preaching is just one long, continuing and continuous announcement of God's Word, which goes on through changes in season and Gospel cycles. But that's a different tack.) You've helped to suggest one of the chief values of a formal, established lectionary cycle -- viz., it does not so easily fall prey to ego or personal "taste," but rather allows the fullness of the Word of God to be spoken.

The function of liturgical, lectionary preaching is to help draw out the narratives and teaching in a way that gradually (like over one's lifetime) integrates all the various aspects into a glorious whole, a gestalt. (How often do pastors refer back to the readings of a couple of weeks or look ahead to readings yet to come? They ought do so!) That can't be done in any one week, and it is never finished. It sounds like the preacher you reference has a view of preaching as involving a discreet set of one-time events, instead of a cyclical process of reflecting on the integratedness of God's Word.

I think the Church deserves better -- and more careful -- preaching than it usually gets! May we all hear it soon.

So much for Monday-morning quarterbacking, eh?

Brother Dwight

Posted by: Dwight on November 22, 2004 09:48 AM

I don't know what the explanation is, but it's definitely not common Anglican practice to have sermons that continue from one week to the next; I've attended about half a dozen different Episcopal churches, plus Canterbury in college, without even encountering a multi-week sermon.

Posted by: Lynn Gazis-Sax on November 22, 2004 11:15 PM
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