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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: 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.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 29:15-28 AND Psalm 105:1-11, 54b OR Psalm 128:1-6, I Kings 3:5-12 AND Psalm 119:129-136, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Some of you may remember the Arsenio Hall Show from some years back. One of the features of the show was a segment in which Arsenio offered a number of observations that made him go “Hmmm.”

Lots of times when I read scripture these days there are things that make me go “Hmm!” They may be things that I disagree with, things that even offend me, at a minimum make me ask, “What is going on here?” or “You’ve got to be kidding!”

I’m going to identify some of those things in this week’s lectionary texts.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 28:10-19a AND Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24, Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 OR Isaiah 44:6-8 AND Psalm 86:11-17, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

It isn’t always easy for people of a progressive spirit to continue loving the Bible. It doesn’t seem to speak with one clear voice, and some of the voices offer images of God and human relationships that offend what we like to think of as “the enlightened mind.” Some readers simply give up and cease to struggle with scripture. Growing up with a deep love for the Bible as “the inspired Word of God,” I have continued to try to find ways to “explain” some of the “negative” images, to learn from them and experience spiritual growth as a result. I grow weary of the effort.

Most progressives are committed to a deeply academic, historical, approach to texts, seeking to understand how they fit into the structure of belief and practice in the time of their writing. We want to know what the writer was “really” trying to say. I doubt that I will ever completely abandon, much less renounce, such an approach, but I find a certain “fundamentalism” in it, not unlike that of the biblical literalists. I want to be able to acknowledge that different streams and traditions were in conversation with one another in the formation of the Bible as we know it, not unlike conversations and debates that continue into the present day. I want to be able to comfortably take sides in those conversations and debates without feeling like I am abandoning part of the “truth” of the Bible. Interpreting the Bible is more than a matter of the mind; it is an emotional and intuitive undertaking in which my heart and life are touched by words that come to life as I read.

Over 40 years ago, I had the privilege of working on a book of Bible studies with Dr. Phyllis Trible, Old Testament scholar who taught, among other places, at Andover-Newton Theological School (admired by our former pastor, Rick Skidmore, when he was a student there), Union Seminary, and Wake Forest University. I have ever since been influenced by something she said, “All scripture is a pilgrim, wandering through history, engaging in new settings, and ever refusing to be locked in the box of the past.”

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 25:19-34 AND Psalm 119:105-112, Isaiah 55:10-13 AND Psalm 65:1-13, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Occasionally I write a blog without a single focus theme, sort of a potpourri of thoughts and questions. I did it a couple of weeks ago. This week I don’t know if it’s an absence of a theme in the lectionary texts or just a bit of laziness.

I might add that some of the thoughts may seem a bit naïve, saccharin, or simplistic this week. It may be a bit more of that laziness, or it may be an effect of a wonderful visit, ending yesterday, from our two youngest grandchildren (ages 6 months and 3 years) and their parents. Maybe my mind got tired along with the rest of my body, or, equally or more likely, they generated within me a euphoric optimism.

If I were to choose a theme, it would probably center around seed, growth, and the action of God’s word in our lives and the world.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 AND Psalm 45:10-17 OR Song of Solomon 2:8-12, Zechariah 9:9-12 AND Psalm 145:8-14, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

One of the images running through scripture is that of a marriage, a love affair, between God and God’s people. That’s the way people most frequently read the Song of Solomon. It is certainly a sensuous rendering of a torrid romance. It may just be a celebration of such relationships tucked into the pages of scriptures. After all, we believe in a God who works in the middle of, and blesses, the everyday realities of human existence, even took on human form to dwell in our midst. It’s not surprising then that many take the Song of Solomon as some sort of allegory about God’s relationship to and with us.

In either case, it calls us to embrace the exuberance of the relationship. The beloved “comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills . . . like a gazelle or a young stag . . . the time of singing has come.” (Song of Solomon 2:8-9, 12) It is a time to abandon constraints and come away with one’s love, almost the suggestion of an elopement. (vss. 10 & 13)

Such is the nature of romantic love. It is wonderful when one is overcome by it, but is it enough to sustain a relationship over time? The reading from Zechariah picks up the same enthusiasm as the beloved king comes to be crowned and joined to his people. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!” (Zechariah 9:9) But there is another element now, a covenant. (vs. 11) A commitment has been made. One is faithful, in part, because of the commitments made, the covenant to which God, and we, and a marriage partner, are faithful as life moves on through thick and thin.

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