The truth about sermon topics is that they’re a false promise. That’s why I don’t like them–I don’t generally make promises I can’t keep. But the most I can say a month in advance is the general line along which I’m thinking. In fact, when I sit down to write I usually just have a word–a single word, or a short phrase–and the writing wraps itself around that. On a holiday it might be the name of the holiday, or it might be something else–rebirth, sex, abundance, exile, transformation, survival. They’re big words. There’s a lot in them. And the sermon doesn’t usually let me know what it’s really about until sometime on Friday, when I’ve chewed it over and let it sit some.
In other traditions they have a lectionary: a pre-determined sequence of Bible texts that will be the basis for the sermons over a one- or three-year rotation. In the lectionaries with which I’m most familiar, they have a New Testament, a Hebrew Scripture/Old Testament, and a psalm each week. The minister gets to pick. Those old stories have a lot of latitude, but I imagine after twenty years preaching on the same texts gets challenging sometimes. On the other hand, it means they are in deeper and deeper conversation with the writings that they hold holy. I can’t imagine what our lectionary would look like, if we had one: This week, the poem is Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese; the prose is Anne Lamott’s story about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from Bird By Bird; and the musical text is “Holy Now” by Peter Mayer.
It would have to change every year. It would have to include theologians and New York Times articles and popular fiction. We’d need someone whose job it was to sift through new suggestions annually and produce the lectionary in advance. So maybe I can envision it. I actually think that would be an amazing job, producing the UU lectionary. And then, like everything else in our tradition, clergy would choose to use or not use it at will. I think a lot of us might welcome the challenge and the comfort, and the sense of connection. Imagine if you could talk with UU friends across the country about the lectionary readings. Imagine if there could be lectionary study groups. Just imagine. Maybe we’d get dull, but maybe we’d be more connected than ever.