This Sunday we begin a few weeks in both Job and Hebrews. The way the Lectionary spends a few weeks on a particular book gives us some interesting opportunities to build preaching series. In a soundbite culture, it gives the preacher the chance to delve more deeply into some of the theological foundations of our faith.
In this post I am talking mainly of a series based on a series of readings in the Lectionary. You can also create more topical series and select different texts. If you are considering a series, unless you have the liberty to select your own readings, start with the selected texts. Read all the readings from that book of the Bible over the following weeks and look for themes. Select a theme and use that as your anchor through the series.
A catchy title is helpful in reminding the congregation that a series is continuing from week to week. I am terrible at titles, but one I thought of for Job this time around could be, “Is God playing tricks on me?”
The questions of Job are the ultimate questions of theodicy. Where does faith in God fit in a world of evil as well as good? Are we really at the whim of the philosophical experiments of God and Satan? It’s very possible that many of our listeners will at one point have asked, “Is God just playing a trick on me?” What is the whole point of our place in Creation in relationship with the Creator? Then, of course, it leads us into the questions of suffering. Is suffering redemptive? How are we to respond to suffering for ourselves and for others?
A few hints to keep in mind if you take on a few weeks of Job. First, be clear who Job is and who he is not. In the second chapter, God and Satan make it clear that Job is not every man. “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Job is no David or Moses or Aaron or Isaac with their faults and lapses in faith. Job is unlike anyone else on earth. It is worth reflecting on this as you prepare to preach. How do we set up the story for our listeners to respond to Job. Do we find him praiseworthy? A model? Or impossible to emulate? How does that change how we engage the text?
Whenever you plan a preaching series, remember that not everyone will hear every sermon. While the whole series will have a flow, it is important to reflect back and look forward in every sermon. When preaching these early chapters of Job, you may want to consider offering a spoiler, that everything will turn out right in the end but also balance keeping listeners in the moment of suffering to explore deeper truths.
A series on the book of Hebrews can be meaningful for a congregation trying to reconnect with their creedal faith. It is filled with beautiful poetic theology which can resonate with those who struggle with a strictly factual belief system and are longing for a more relational experience of God. Focussing on Jesus as the high priest and how he relates to God the Father and to the Church can offer a fresh understanding of prayer and faith.
Depending on how topical your series will be, you may want to replace one or more of the other texts. Is there another text from one of the other testaments that highlights your focus text in a different way that works with your series? This is not the same as prooftexting. Begin with the Scripture passage you are focussing on and what the Spirit is pulling out in you. It is possible the other readings assigned to that Sunday do not make as clear a connection. Remember, the lectionary readings are not all meant to fit together. The psalm is a response to the first reading. The epistle and gospel sometimes but not always carry a shared theme. There is flexibility here.
If preaching for 4 or 5 weeks on the same text doesn’t suit your style, you may want to take one Sunday out of the next month to preach on all of the readings of one of these books. It would be more general than a series, this is true, but it would also give the listeners some context for what they are hearing in the readings.
Are you a series preacher? Are you working on a series this fall? Share your ideas around the table.