From the Pastor – Spring 2023

“Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?”Book of Order, W-4.4003(b)

            As part of my ordination service thirty-six years ago, I answered that question with a strong “I do.” The same vow is posed to all who serve as Deacons and Ruling Elders as well, but as a Minister of Word and Sacrament I heard an additional responsibility being named. In the years since, I have sought to act upon that affirmation in my devotional life as an individual disciple of Jesus Christ and in the Biblical texts I selected for my preaching.   

Over the course of three pastorates, I have rarely followed the lectionary, that ecumenical resource which suggests four Scripture readings for each Sunday of the year over a thirty-six month stretch of time. Instead, at the start of my fourth year in ministry, I made the decision to follow a different path for choosing sermon texts. I did so in part because the same suggested passages from three years earlier had returned. Yet more significantly, I began to realize the huge gaps in the Biblical witness that are not addressed in the lectionary. Some of those omissions include stories we teach our children and others are passages that raise troubling images or themes for believers today—mostly texts having to do with miracles or acts of terrible violence. Thus, starting in 1990, I began a pattern of sermon series that were long narrative sections such as following the story of Moses or entire books of the Bible like Esther, or thematic series like the “I AM” statements from Jesus. That approach challenged me personally, but was enlivening, too.

I felt that approach for preaching texts honored the meaning of the Apostle Paul, when he wrote, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) I will confess to a bit of pride as well when I would casually mention to colleagues I had left the lectionary behind. Thus, it was humbling to discover in looking back over on my records that I, too, had skipped entire books of the Bible during my career. One would think that having preached 1445 sermons (my lifetime total through February) I would have covered every part of the Bible at least once.  It turns out I missed thirteen of them and thus starting after Easter and running through August, I plan to close that gap.

What would you guess is on that list?  Send me your ideas of what books have never served as one of my preaching texts. You can drop a note or send me an email with your best guess of the Missing Thirteen, too. Or you can use this link to take our quiz and select what you think are the ones I have not included previously in a sermon. Whoever gets closest to an accurate list (staff excluded since they have copies of my preaching schedule) might get a shout-out from the pulpit. We can reserve your favorite seat in the sanctuary if you’d like, too, or even have you sit next to me in the chancel since there is usually one comfortable chair available to my left. Even if you’d rather decline any of those “prizes” I’d love to learn your guess as to the books that for various reasons I have not drawn from during my three decades-plus of preaching.

I am eager to hear from you and to take a step over the coming months to ensure that this Minister of Word and Sacrament will have preached at least once from all 66 books of the Bible. In that way, I can affirm and you can attest as this preacher’s career winds down that truly “all scripture” has informed his ministry, too.  I look forward to that journey together!