Living with the Word: What I do each week to prepare to give a reflection in worship

Jan. 4, 2024

By Rev. Rick King

Some of you have asked how I find something original to say every week in the reflection/sermon during our worship service.

I can tell you, sometimes there are weeks where I don’t feel like I have anything original to say. But I’ve learned to trust that the Holy Spirit can use whatever is said, sung, played, or done in a worship service to bring about transformation. It happens because of God, and humans working with God. So it’s more than just you or me, but all of us together with God, that makes the difference.

At the same time, there are some things I do to prepare every week that I preach, and they all center on living with the biblical text—on my own and with others—week in and week out.

For people of faith, the most important thing that makes our sacred text relevant and life-giving living with it, wrestling with it, using it, and allowing it to shape us in the context of a community such as a congregation.

So here’s what I do, from start to finish, based on a 4-year cycle of Bible readings called The Narrative Lectionary, developed at Luther Seminary here in St. Paul. I like to look as much as three or four months out in the Lectionary to see what’s coming up and
what themes are speaking to what we’re going through in our individual lives and as a church community.

Then, working two months at a time, I’ll sketch out worship service choices for hymns and songs, celebration of Communion and Baptism, and other rituals that might help us connect and respond to the theme and to each other. I keep a ring binder organized into weeks, the seasons (like Advent), and the entire year from September through May. The Worship Ministry Team and I also collaborate using a
spreadsheet on Google Drive with all the services organized by week and including possible choices of music, rituals, and other elements of the service, so it’s not just me talking, but us worshiping.

When Monday morning rolls around, I’ll dive into the text coming up on Sunday at the end of the week, read it through again several times, underlining, making notes, highlighting. What I’m looking for is a “bump” in the text, something that grabs me and gets my attention. I’ll also read and listen to what others are saying about the text: written commentaries and a podcast that Luther Seminary puts out each week called “I Love to Tell the Story,” where three Luther faculty discuss the reading and what it means to them. We have a Tuesday morning Bible study group that meets at 10 a.m. to read and discuss the week’s text, and so I’ll share what the reading is and
a link to a written commentary, so if participants want to prepare ahead of time, they can.

Every Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. Central Time, a group of other pastors who use the Narrative Lectionary meets over Zoom for an hour to discuss the same text for the week, and begin to make connections and have insights into what we might be saying from the text to our congregations.

Wednesday morning, first thing, I sketch out either a mind-map in longhand, or tap out a rough draft of the ideas I’m getting on my laptop. I usually spend only an hour on this and work fast, then put it away and let it percolate over the course of the day and overnight.

Thursday morning, the first thing I do when I get to the office is take out the previous day’s efforts and usually, I’m able to write a final written draft of what I’ll say on Sunday. But the REAL final draft is what happens on Sunday morning, which is the interaction between us, because preaching isn’t just a one-way lecture but a relational act between you, me, and God.

And that’s the product of encountering the Bible over and over again, alone and together. See you Sunday?