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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 1:1-2;4a, Psalm 8:1-9, II Corinthians 12:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20

Although the body of Christians, in general, through the ages has considered itself Trinitarian, some, in the United Church of Christ, may sit a little loosely with the doctrine and we generally don’t talk about it much. The word Trinity, you see, isn’t even mentioned in the Bible, and there is certainly no developed doctrine of “The Trinity.” A couple of verses, included in this week’s lectionary texts, offer a Trinitarian formula which was probably used in worship and maybe in greetings in the early church. It’s a matter of discussion whether these phrases were in the earliest documents or not, perhaps added from later church practice.

It wasn’t until a few centuries later, after of vigorous discussion and debate, that things were formalized in the (Nicene Creed (and, to a lesser degree, in the Apostles’ Creed), and, even then, the part about the Holy Spirit didn’t seem very definitive. Here are the relevant paragraphs from the Nicene Creed:
“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
“And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.”

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Acts 2:1-12 OR Numbers 11:24-30, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, I Corinthians 12:3b-13 OR Acts 2:1-21, John 20:19-23 OR John 7:37-39

Okay, I don’t know why certain things pop into my mind, which you won’t hear more about until near the end of this blog entry. The great leaps that seem to bring them there never cease to amaze and puzzle me. This week it started with the texts leading me to think about the power of God’s Spirit to bring us together.

It’s Pentecost Sunday, you see, so it’s no surprise that the texts are about God’s Spirit. It is a day which the Christian community has set aside to celebrate the Holy Spirit. It remembers that occasion, 50 days after Easter, described in the second chapter of Acts, when the Spirit came upon a group of believers gathered in Jerusalem. They were “devout Jews from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) celebrating an ancient Hebrew festival, the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), a harvest festival combined with a commemoration of the day the Hebrew people received the Law. Some Christian see it as a celebration of the birthday of the Church.

This is what stood out for me about the work of the Holy Spirit as I read this week’s passages. The Holy Spirit brings people, in all their diversity, together. It is a message we desperately need to hear when people attack one another so easily just because they are different.

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?

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