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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:
Ascension Day: Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47:1-9 OR Psalm 93:1-5, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35, I Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11, John 17:1-11

So much of our theology is an attempt to explain what isn’t easily and readily understood. It’s been so ever since humanity has shaken in awe in the presence of volcanoes or the movement of the stars through the heavens. We’ve seen wonders too great for words, yet we try to use words to see if we can’t capture and hold the wonder for use at another time.

We have a lot of that going on in these weeks that span the season from Resurrection Day to Pentecost, with Ascension Day along the way. In my opinion, all three stories---the story of Jesus being raised from the dead, the story of Jesus being borne into the heavens, and the story of being empowered by a mighty outpouring the Holy Spirit---are attempts to explain or make sense of what those earlier followers of Jesus were experiencing.

At its simplest (and it is not something I would describe as simple), here it is. Jesus was with us; Jesus is leaving/has left us; Jesus is still with us.

Thoughts on the Lectionary Passages for May 14, 2017 (Fifth Sunday of Easter)

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, I Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14

Every week as I look over the lectionary readings for the coming Sunday, there is a place deep within that trembles. There is so much here, so much richness, so many different perspectives and insights. Who am I to pick and choose? Even the words of my best day of writing are insufficient to translate the power of these stories and the experiences of my faith journey.
Yet I go ahead and do it. Why? I could give true, but relatively shallow answers. My experience is that the most fumbling of attempts touches someone at an area of need in that person’s life. I saw it again and again when I was preaching every Sunday. I would include something in my sermon, stop, notice, and wonder to myself, “Now why did I put that in there?” Other times something would find its way into the sermon and more or less escape my notice entirely. If one of those things survived the editing process, someone on the way out after Sunday worship would refer to that specific part of the sermon saying how much it meant to him or her. You never know what is going to make a difference. Words offered that touch even one person are worth speaking or writing.
On a deeper level, though, in matters that may seem much more fearsome, what is it that keeps us going? I don’t have a simply, neat, and profound answer, but this week’s texts encourage me to consider a strength of spirit that is even willing to face down death.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23:1-6, I Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10

Each week during worship, after we have been meditating in silence upon some of our human shortcomings, Pastor Jeanne quotes a couple of verses from Jesus’ words. One of those is “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” the final verse in the Gospel reading for the coming Sunday. There are those who seem to believe in something called “The Gospel of Wealth.” Just believe and diligently practice your faith and you will get rich. In fact, there was a pioneering sociological study that claimed Protestantism brought forth people with a strong work ethic who, as a result, were strong achievers in life, contributing to the rise of capitalism. (See The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber)

Now, I’m sure that’s not where Pastor Jeanne is coming from, or going, with this verse. I’m also pretty sure it isn’t where Jesus is coming from, or going, either, but all of this week’s readings remind us of a certain abundance that comes from the grace of God.

First, let’s look at some definitions of the word, abundance.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41, Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19, I Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35

Something about the lectionary readings for the coming Sunday led me to thinking about the various ways in which we approach scripture. A few times in my ministry I’ve taught a course on “Ways to Study the Bible.” I’m not going to tackle that large subject in a single blog entry. My reflections did lead me to a favorite book in my personal library, Frederick Buechner’s Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale. Written in 1977, it is still one of the best books on the task of preaching I have ever read. It’s a bit lyrical at times, maybe even fantastical, and heavily thought-provoking and challenging at others.

Any attempt to summarize or offer a representative quotation is doomed to failure, but I’ll do it anyway. The following two quotes come close to the author’s own summary, in my opinion. (The book was written in an era when “man” was used to designate all humanity, male and female. I’ve not changed that wording from the original.)

“The Gospel is bad news before it is good news. It is the news that man is a sinner, to use the old word, that he is evil in the imagination of his heart, that when he looks in the mirror all in a lather what he sees is at least eight parts chicken, phony, slob. That is the tragedy. But it is also the news that he is loved anyway, cherished, forgiven, bleeding to be sure, but also bled for. That is the comedy. And yet, so what? So, what if even in his sin the slob is loved and forgiven when the very mark and substance of his sin and of his slobbery is that he keeps turning down the love and forgiveness because he either doesn’t believe them or doesn’t want them or just doesn’t give a damn? In answer, the news of the Gospel is that extraordinary things happen to him just as in fairy tales extraordinary things happen.”

I wouldn’t express some of the details in quite that way but I find it immensely helpful to think of the Gospel as tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale. It captures a lot of the way in which I experience the Gospel stories.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16:1-11, I Peter 1:5-9, John 20:19-31

I offer three possible starting points for a conversation about this week’s lectionary readings. You can add your own, starting from an entirely different point.

Starting point number one: Kerygma. It’s the Greek word for “preaching.” It “has come to mean the core of the early church’s” telling of the story of Jesus. The leaders of the early church developed a summary of that story that was usually the beginning point of their sermons. “The term kerygma has come to denote the irreducible essence of Christian apostolic preaching.” I’m not going to try to set that summary in stone. It’s there in the sermon Peter preached after the astounding event experienced by those gathered for Pentecost. Those present wanted to know how and why this was happening?

The portion we are given features Peter standing up, preaching a sermon of explanation. He begins with that summary: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know---this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” (vss. 22-24)

How would you summarize what you believe about Jesus? What part of Jesus’ story touches your life, is a source of power and meaning for you?

Revised Common Lectionary Readings:
Easter Vigil: Genesis 1:1-2:4a AND Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26, Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18 AND Psalm 46:1-11, Genesis 22:1-18 AND Psalm 16:1-11, Exodus 14:10-21; 15:20-21 AND Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18, Isaiah 55:1-11 AND Isaiah 12:2-6, Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 OR Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 AND Psalm 19:1-14, Ezekiel 36:24-28 AND Psalms AND Psalm 98:1-9, Romans 6:3-11 AND Psalm 114:1=8, Matthew 27:1-10
Resurrection of the Lord: Act 10:34-43 OR Jeremiah 31:1-6, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, John 20:1-18 OR Matthew 28:1-10
Easter Evening: Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 114:1-8, I Corinthians 5:6b-8, Luke 24:13-49

You can see that we have a ton of scriptures for Easter Sunday. The reasons are buried in the workings of church traditions which have many “set” services for Holy Week and Easter, including something called “Easter Vigil.” Easter Vigil was/is a long service in darkness that usually includes baptism. Think of it, maybe, as an Easter sunrise services, but more. Some traditions have a midnight service as Saturday turns to Sunday. Today, I’m just taking all these readings as a variety of scriptures that shed some light on our understanding of Easter, and I’m not even looking at the Easter Vigil text.

Both my memory and the internet fail me at times. Two memories came to mind that I would like to have included in my writing today---a song, Go to Galilee, by Rev. Al Carmines, and a joke about a child’s image of what it meant for Jesus to live inside him. I couldn’t remember either nor could I find them on the internet. I have the song on an old cassette tape, but I can’t get it to play on the only machine I own that is equipped to play such things. (If you want to know who Al Carmines is, you will find extensive information about him online.)

Easter discussions sometime get bogged down in how the resurrection happened, trying to describe, or debunk, the physical details. More power to you wherever you want to go with that. I won’t argue with you one way or another. What remains important to me is where we look for Jesus today and what we should look for?

Revised Common Lectionary Readings:
For Palm Sunday: Psalm 118:1-2, 18-29, Matthew 21:1-11
For Passion Sunday: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 26:14-27:66

It’s all about the authority which we allow to guide our lives, and about the kind of “king” that is worthy of that kind of obedience.

I came of age in an era when the term “counterculture” came into widespread use. Intentional communities (some called them “communes”) grew up where people attempted to live by values which challenged those prevailing in the wider and dominant culture. I was enamored with these communities and maintained contact with a number of them, although I never fully moved into one. In my adult years, I did spend a three-month sabbatical at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study and retreat center which functioned as an “alternative” residential community.

The churches of my early years were alternative communities of sorts. They refused to accept the cultural norms for the use of makeup, entertainment (no movies or dancing, for example), alcohol, etc. I remember refusing to participate when physical education included dancing. One may disagree with these particular restrictions, but there is no question that there was a bit of a countercultural attitude at work here.

Counterculturalism sometimes walks a fine line, leading to conspiracy theories and snipers, but, to this day, I find myself feeling a bit (and sometimes more than a bit) of dis-ease (and disease) with the values that seem to drive so much of society. My focus (and my denominational affiliation) have shifted to a concern for justice and peace. I look for alternatives to greed and reliance upon power and force. I look for compassion and cooperation rather than selfishness and competitiveness and conflict.

One of the ways scripture approaches such issues is by putting before us the choice of a “king,” calling us to think about what king, and what kind of king, we are ready to follow. The prophets, and Jesus, and the early church were often seen as a threat to the loyalty earthly kings demanded.

We see the threat coming to a climax in this week’s lectionary readings.

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