A Lectionary sets the agenda for the sermon
Last Sunday, the Gospel reading set for the day was from Luke 17:5-10 where the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our Faith!”
He told them that if they had faith as small as a mustard seed, they could command a mulberry tree to uproot itself and replant itself in the sea… and it would obey. Imagine it: a mulberry tree suddenly uprooting itself, flying through the air, and then replanting itself in the sea.
How was this reading chosen as the Gospel reading for the day? It was the reading set from the Lectionary, which offers congregations a balanced diet of readings from the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospels.
The sheer size of the Bible means that a selection of readings must be made for Sunday use. Various systems have been used over the centuries, but widespread ecumenical agreement has been reached over recent decades.
In Australia, Anglican, Churches of Christ, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Uniting Church and many Baptist and other congregations use the Three-Year Lectionary.
Using a Lectionary means that the Lectionary sets the agenda for the sermon. It stops preachers from selecting passages from scripture that are difficult to preach on. It also stops them from selecting their favourite passages from scripture.
The Lectionary provides a three-year series of readings for Sunday starting with the season of Advent, four weeks before Christmas Day. Each year, the Lectionary centres on one of the synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke. The Gospel of John is read periodically in all three years and is especially frequent in Year B.
Year A focuses on the Gospel of Matthew. The semi-continuous Old Testament readings focus on major Genesis narratives, the covenant with Moses and the establishment of Israel in the Promised Land. The second, New Testament, readings are from Romans, Philippians and 1 Thessalonians.
Year B focuses on the Gospel of Mark with more selections from the Gospel of John than any other year. The semi-continuous readings from the Old Testament focus on the covenant of David and Wisdom literature. The second, New Testament, readings are from 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, James and Hebrews.
Year C focuses on the Gospel of Luke. The semi-continuous Old Testament readings are of prophetic proclamation chosen in chronological order and highlighting Jeremiah. The second, New Testament, readings are chosen mainly from Galatians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy and 2 Thessalonians.
Today’s Gospel reading is Luke 17:11-19 i.e. Jesus cleanses ten lepers. Given a choice, I would rather preach on this passage as opposed to trying to make sense of the image of replanting a mulberry tree in the ocean!