Writing sermons is mostly solitary work, but engaging scripture, which is at the heart of preaching, is work that belongs to the entire community of faith. As a public act of proclaiming the word of God,
a sermon prompts and perpetuates a community’s encounters with that word in its midst. The preacher, then, is hardly the only one interpreting on Sunday mornings and throughout the week. The commentary on biblical texts here at WorkingPreacher.org is meant to encourage this process by fostering deeper, more informed interpretation of scripture. It therefore benefits not only preachers but also the congregations they serve.
Different faith traditions may express this in different ways, but most Christians-at least, most of those who spend time at this Web site-understand preaching to involve two kinds of reading. The preacher reads the biblical text and reads her audience. Both of these readings are interpretive acts, out of which the preacher strives to craft and deliver a message that speaks the word of God to a particular audience that lives in particular circumstances at a particular time. Authentic preaching, then, is contextual by definition; sermons are embedded in their settings, proclamations naturally shaped by the complex web of conditions in which individuals and groups live.
The commentary on lectionary passages at WorkingPreacher.org can assist preachers as they read scripture, and it respects the contextual nature of preaching. The commentary does not pretend to offer either disinterested critical exegesis or comprehensive analyses like those available in published commentaries. Each contributor to the site discusses lectionary texts from a scholar’s vantage point, to be sure, but also in ways that encourage preachers to discover resonances between scripture’s witness and their real-life contexts. The commentary does not deliver pre-packaged sermons for preachers to restate to their audiences. It aims to initiate conversations-conversations among believers gathered around the scriptures, eager to discern God’s presence in the midst of the world. Preachers can take up and further these conversations, on their own or in the company of other preachers, and find them catalysts for their own capacity to discern the word of God in and through scripture.
But why should preachers be the only ones in on these conversations? Why should sermons be the primary vehicle for exposing congregations to the work of biblical interpretation? Might not preachers be better able to read scripture and to read their audiences if they invite those audiences to share more actively in this exciting work?
The public, Web-based setting of WorkingPreacher.org means that the site’s lectionary commentary is ready to be shared. If your congregation does not already have a group or groups that study the lectionary texts every week, consider creating such opportunities for people. The commentary easily serves as a basic curriculum and conversation-starter, providing knowledge and drawing connections that can encourage groups to swim more confidently in scripture’s depths.
People should not-and obviously most will not-consider the commentary as the comprehensive or final word on the meaning of a biblical text. Nor are these pieces supposed to be the definitive measuring stick for people to assess their pastors’ sermons. But the commentary will help people engage the Bible in a more informed manner. Even if your sermons on Sunday mornings (or Saturday nights, if you’re into that sort of thing) are fifteen-minute monologues, your sermon preparations, the conversations you have after worship services, and your community’s encounters with the word of God have the potential to become dialogical acts, as the group work of interpreting scripture infuses the broader life of the congregation.
Direct your congregations and your colleagues in ministry to the commentary available through this site as a reliable and imaginative guide into the Bible. Encourage them to take up and read the scriptures with you and with others. Invite them into conversations so they come away empowered, more confident of their access the Bible, and more keenly able to discern God’s presence among them, where they live.