Words of life
By Ben McDonald Coltvet
In Mark, Jesus gathers people around story, including parables and (sometimes puzzling) pronouncements. He gathers an unlikely assortment of individuals -- children, lepers, demons -- who are all hungry for a word of life.
This word of life is proclaimed faithfully in worship every week at ELCA congregations across the continent. Pastors preach, the Holy Spirit works -- and people engage the holy story found in Scriptures.
But that’s not as easy as it may sound. For preachers, many of whom are weary and stretched thin, preaching is not simply a matter of standing up and sharing family stories vaguely connected to the day’s texts. It’s a process that takes time, conversation, study, prayer and inspiration.
What’s a working preacher to do?
WorkingPreacher.org, a free online preaching resource from the Center for Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, is one of the tools that pastors are increasingly relying upon for support in this process.
Each week the site features:
- written commentaries (in English and Spanish) by Bible and preaching experts from Christian seminaries across the country;
- a podcast, “Sermon Brainwave,” where several Luther Seminary faculty members play with the lectionary texts and discuss how to interpret and proclaim them in new ways; and
- a weekly column, “Dear Working Preacher,” in which David Lose, director of the Center for Biblical Preaching, shares words of encouragement and challenge for preachers.
Jennifer Rome, a pastor from Mount Calvary Lutheran Church an ELCA congregation in Eagan, Minn., said: “My favorite part of WorkingPreacher is the “Sermon Brainwave” podcast. I check in on Monday mornings when I know I’ll be writing a sermon during the week and I love to hear the interaction of the people speaking and joking about the text and getting my imagination started about what I could be preaching about that week. I appreciate the entryways they give me into the text.”
Her frequent visits to WorkingPreacher.org were among the 1.2 million visits in 2011 to the site from over 200 countries and territories. And she’s not alone in her enthusiasm: 94 percent of survey respondents said they’ve recommended the site to others, and 91 percent said the site is extremely or very useful.
Narrative Lectionary gaining
Not all ELCA pastors are preaching from the Revised Common Lectionary, though. And to support that, WorkingPreacher.org added in September 2011 a weekly commentary on the Narrative Lectionary.
The Narrative Lectionary is a four-year cycle of readings. On Sundays from September through May each year, the texts follow the sweep of the biblical story, from Creation through the early Christian church.
The Narrative Lectionary started in 2010 when Rolf Jacobson and Craig Koester, professors at Luther Seminary, partnered with congregations across North America. Interest in the Narrative Lectionary has been steadily growing.
WorkingPreacher.org posts Narrative Lectionary resources weekly (including written and podcast commentaries) for use by preachers whose congregations are ready for a new way to engage Scripture in weekly worship.
Lois Garbisch is an ELCA member who enjoys the Narrative Lectionary. “Our church, Trinity Lutheran, in Cook, Minn., is in the second year of using the Narrative Lectionary and it has been rich and interesting,” wrote Lois. “There are so many things that I’ve forgotten or never known. I’ve been attending a midweek study since 1977, and this approach has been one of the most engaging I’ve been part of.”
That’s the word of life, faithfully received.
When preachers proclaim the word and members receive it, Jesus is there, calling us to respond.
The Gospel message takes us to unlikely places — in the wilderness and on the mountaintop, inside places of worship and out among the graveyards, on wind-swept waves and in houses filled to bursting. In all these places, Jesus is there to gather us.
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