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Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary and/or the Narrative Lectionary

See older posts from 2006 to 2014 on the blog archive site at blogarchive.kairosucc.org

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Exodus 14:19-31 AND Psalm 114:1-8 OR Exodus 15:1B-11, 20-21, Genesis 50:15-21 AND Psalm 103:1-13, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35

This is my last entry on the blog site for several weeks. We’re headed off on one of our 45-day cross country road trips to enjoy the sites (and sights) along the way and visit with family in various locations. While I’m away Pastor Jeanne will be posting some thoughts here.

I’m aware that much highly visible trauma is going on in the world around us right now. We’ve even been impacted by ash and smoke from a major fire in the Columbia Gorge and some of our trip had to be rerouted because of evacuations.

I tie everything together this week around the notion of the stories we tell. There are stories that define our history, stories of survival and finding meaning in life. I’m sure that there will be many who will tell stories of survival, challenge, fright, and hope out of the experience of hurricanes and fires. The stories may include gratitude to the many who responded with help. They may offer perspective on how they saw God involved, or not.

The core story of the Hebrew people, the Jewish faith, is one of escaping oppression and movement ahead toward a new life. It’s most commonly known as “The Exodus.”

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Exodus 12:1-14 AND Psalm 149:1-9, Ezekiel 33:7-11 AND Psalm 119:33-40, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20

It may be helpful to give a little background about my “meeting” with the lectionary texts each week. Quite a few years back (although I was already “retired”), when I started offering these reflections, my agreement was to bring a lifetime of experience and study to the effort. This was in contrast to undertaking in-depth new research and study for each set of passages. Occasionally something intrigues me and drives me to dig deeper, but I do not intend my primary approach to be intellectual---although, being who I am, it sometimes takes that kind of turn.

It starts with preparation for a Tuesday morning group of people who meet over breakfast to share our lives, connecting with one another and with scripture. We meet at a local restaurant, beginning with the sharing of prayer concerns, followed by prayer. Members of the group are then given time to read an abbreviated version of the lectionary readings I have prepared. Starting on the previous Sunday, as I have read through the readings, I have thought about what questions or topics I might suggest to kick off our attempt to connect scripture to our lives. Often I look for a common theme running through the various texts. Sometimes I just leave it open-ended and members comment on something that stuck them as they read, or they ask a question---and off we go.

Pastor Jeanne has talked about two different methods of using questions to get into the scriptures---one using a regular structured sequence of questions, the other just jotting down every queston that comes to her mind. Both are good and productive approaches. My preparation for the Tuesday morning breakfast often involves questions, but with a slightly different twist. I’m asking myself, “What question or questons, arising from these texts, would make a good starting point for our conversation around the table?” Where might we start in our effort to connect with one another and with scripture?

With that background, I’m going to offer you the questions, with a little comment, I put before the group this week?

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Exodus 3:1-15 AND Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, Jeremiah 15:15-21 AND Psalm 26:1-8, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28

The topic is “suffering.” Some people seem to have easy answers. Questions are as much a part of my faith as answers. If God is good, why is there evil? The question has been discussed and debated for millennia with, in my opinion, no fully satisfactory answer. Rabbi Harold Kushner offered a popular contribution to the discussion with his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. That, however, is not the way people usually ask the question. “Why,” they want to know, “do bad things happen to good people?”, especially when I’m the good person and the bad things are happening to me. “Why me?” How long, O Lord, will I have to endure?

In this week’s lectionary readings, Jeremiah cries out, “O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance do not take me away; know that on your account I suffer insult . . . I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; under the weight of your hand I sat alone, for you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” (Jeremiah 15:15, 17-18) The Psalmist comes to us with a similar attitude. “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering . . . I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 26:1, 4-6)

In the Gospel lesson from Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering,” facing even death. That this good person whom they had come to love might have to suffer offended the very fabric of the universe. “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you,” says Peter. (Matthew 16:21-22) Jesus rebukes him (vs. 23) because, you see, suffering is somehow at the very heart of the Christian understanding of reality. People and social reality are changed by people who are willing to put their lives on the line for what is right. A cross, after all, is a central symbol of our faith.

In this passage, Jesus not only points ahead to his own cross; he tells us that crosses are ours to bear as well. “If any of you want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (vss. 24-25)

So, why suffering? Why are there crosses in our live? The answers we sometimes give, or have been given, can come close to sounding like, “Grin and bear it.” Someone may say, “God sent this to you as a test,” or “God sent this to you because you are strong enough to bear it.” I don’t intend to say those things, but it is true that suffering is a part of every life, and some people are able to learn from it, grow amid it.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Exodus 1:8-2:10 AND Psalm 124:1-8, Isaiah 51:1-6 AND Psalm 138:1-8, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20

Much of the Bible is about “deliverance”, whether it is from personal sin or political oppression, exile, injustice, or slavery. There is a long history, in the Judeo-Christian heritage, of waiting for a Messiah, an anointed one, who would be the instrument of such deliverance. Early followers of Jesus, and Christians through the years, have come to see Jesus as that “Messiah.” Our Gospel lesson has the disciples responding to a question Jesus asked: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They give a variety of answers---John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah or some other prophets come back to life. (Matthew 16:13-14) Jesus then focusses the question a bit: “But who do you say that I am?” (vs. 15) Many, preaching on this text over the years, have asked listeners to take that question to heart personally. It’s always an appropriate focus and often leads to good discussion and insight. Peter’s answer, for which he is commended by Jesus, is “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (vss. 16-17)

A number of this week’s texts touch upon the theme of deliverance. “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.” (Psalm 124:7) “I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope.” (Isaiah 51:5) “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.” (Psalm 138:7-8)

The epic story of deliverance in the Hebrew scriptures is that of the Exodus from Egypt, deliverance from slavery. The story begins in our reading from the book of Exodus, the story of a son, Moses, born to a slave woman, who finds his way into the Pharaoh’s household. (Exodus 2:1-10---Isn’t it interesting that this is the second Hebrew, Joseph being the other one, who finds his way into such a prominent position?)

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 45:1-14 AND Psalm 133:1-13, Psalm 56:1, 6-8 AND Psalm 67:1-7, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:10-28

We were suddenly graced this past weekend with two visits in two days. The visits meant inviting our guests to sit down at our table. For the first visitors, a cousin and his wife who insisted on only a “light” lunch, I made a turkey (leftover) and brown rice soup laced with carrots and celery. We served blueberry bagels with cream cheese and a strawberry vinaigrette salad. It was plenty, with some leftover. Margie and I finished the salad later as part of our dinner.

We took our Sunday guests, a granddaughter and her boyfriend, out for a good German meal at noon. Our Sunday evening tradition is to sort of forage for our meal. This time we foraged and put together a dinner for four---small bowls of the leftover soup, sliced turkey (from the earlier leftover source) to be used with leftover cream cheese and bagels, some leftover pineapple from our dinner the night before, and another salad which had been held in reserve if needed for lunch the previous day. All that served us well and there were still leftovers.

We eat a lot of leftovers at our house!

So what does that have to do with the lectionary readings this week?

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 AND Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b, I Kings 19:9-18 AND Psalm 85:8-13, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33

In 1959, The Coasters sang a song titled “Charlie Brown,” built around stories about the cartoon character of the same name. Charlie, of course, is often thought of as sort of a loser. Very little seems to go his way. The punch line of the song is sung in a deep voice, supposedly Charlie Brown: "Why's everybody always pickin' on me?”

That line could well have been the title for this blog entry. The sentiment probably fits the Elijah story best. Elijah has been doing battle with King Ahab, who calls Elijah a “troubler of Israel.” (I Kings 18:17) Elijah does, in fact, cause a lot of trouble, winning a contest with the Ahab’s religious leaders, the priests of Baal, thus angering the queen, Jezebel. (vss. 18-28 and I Kings 19:1-2) Now Elijah is on the run for his life, and feeling mighty sorry for himself, feeling that everybody is picking on him. He’s alone in a cave when God asks what he’s doing there. Elijah’s whiny answer? “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” (vss. 9-10. The question and answer are repeated in vss. 13-14)

Have we ever felt alone and picked on? Although I wasn’t quite the Charlie Brown “loser,” I experienced a bit of taunting and bullying in my younger years. What keeps us going in such times? Several of this week’s readings suggest some answers.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 32:22-31 AND Psalm 17:1-7, 15, Isaiah 55:1-5 AND Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21

Almost every afternoon I walk down two flights of stairs and across the parking lot to the swimming pool serving our apartment community. I love the convenience of the pool! I meet a number of neighbors while I’m down there. They come and go. It’s not always easy to carry on a good conversation while also trying to be faithful to our exercise regimens---each one of us seeming to have our own. Nevertheless, the time is often a good social outlet as well as a contributor to good physical health.

One of the newer people I’ve met usually leaves the pool before I do. As he leaves, he always turns, lifts his fist and says, “Power to the people!” It’s a phrase from the sixties. It was associated with the Black Panther movement and was widely used in the protest movements of that era, which was enough to make it offensive to some. Over time, it became more widespread and has been used as the title of films, books, and songs, most notably one by John Lennon.

We have more power than we realize. Our guest speaker talked about it in last Sunday’s sermon, using the story of God calling Moses to confront Pharaoh. Moses gave excuse after excuse, and God kept showing him how he was up to it, especially with a little help from others, especially from Aaron.

I believe some, if not all, of this week’s lectionary readings offer a similar message, perhaps with a little stretch of interpretation in places.

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