Friday, April 1, 2011

A Lens - Focus and Distortion

I am a very big fan of Church Year Preaching. What I mean is this -- one views the given text in light of the themes of the part of the Church Year. What are these themes? In brief:

Advent - Expectation of Deliverance
Christmas - The Incarnation
Epiphany - The revelation of the Deity of Christ
Lent - Christ's Struggle Against Sin
Easter - Christ's resurrection and it's implications for us
Trinity - Teaching and Instruction (and you can break this into chunks)

The time of the Church year helps to shape and focus us upon the text, it zeroes us in on a particular part or aspect - it gives focus. This is wonderful - it helps keep us from wondering onto our own personal pet bones to pick, and it gives a rhythm to the Church year where both Christian Faith and Life are covered.

However, like any lens that focuses us, there is also some distortion.

I thought about this while looking at John 6:1-15, which is this Sunday's Gospel lesson. It's on Laetare - the Pink Sunday - Rejoice! - the Sunday of refreshment. And so, when I preach on the Feeding of the 5000 there will be a strong focus on how Christ refreshes us - and also how He flees in order to go to His passion (which was at hand).

But you know, if this text were in Epiphany -- hmmm, well, Thomas Lemke talks about John 6 and Psalm 23 really well. It could be easily a fantastic focus on "See, Jesus is the Messiah." Or if it were Easter - huge focus on Christ who cares for us. Or in the Trinity season - it teaches that while Christ provides us bread, the greater gift is the Salvation He wins at His passion. In Advent, there is the sense of the impending passion - a focus on what Christ is coming to do. Indeed, you could even, I suppose, put this in Christmas - this is very much a God with Us thing.

So, what is the point of this? Am I saying the Lectionary and Church Year are bad? By no means. They are fantastic tools - and the focus they give is wonderful.

But we need to remember that the Word of God is richer than we normally give it credit for. One of the things where I slightly disagreed with my Preaching instructor, Dr. Fickensher, whom I respect greatly, rests in this. His adage was that you preach the main point of the text. That was his question - what is the main point of the text? Preach that. My problem with this is that it can lead us to forget that there are so, so many points and aspects of a text... preach the one appropriate to the season, bringing out nuances that your congregation needs to hear.

But even then - no text is covered fully in a Sunday Sermon. Nor even in an hour bible study on Sunday morning, if you do a text study there. Scripture is rich, deep, and full. It's not a painting on the wall to be viewed from only one angle - it's a statue that you can walk around, see something new almost all the time.

Don't think that you've "got a text down" - there is always more to see and always new things in your life to ponder in light of the text. Use the lens of the Church Year, but don't in arrogance think you've gotten the whole text down.


Phillip said...

What about preaching this as a Eucharistic text? Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, and feeds those who come to him, so they are full. Furthermore, they don't allow any bread to be discarded.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Hmmm... I wonder if anyone thought of that... and thought about how we are given cause to rejoice and give thanks for God's miraculous feeding that we receive...

... and just didn't want his thunder for Sunday completely stolen >=o)

Phillip said...

Dr. Lockwood just connected this to the manna in the wilderness. I had never thought of that connection, but it's another good theme for the paricope.