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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:
Reign of Christ Sunday: Jeremiah 23:1-6 AND Luke 1:68-79 OR Psalm 46:1-11, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43
Thanksgiving Day: Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 100:1-5, Philippians 4:4-9, John 6:25-35

We so much want to find something secure to hold onto. We want to find someone we can trust with complete confidence. We want somebody to clean up the mess and make things right again.

For many throughout history it has been a king. Upon the king all the peoples hope rested. For some in our day, perhaps, that kind of hope and trust is directed toward a president. Every election, it seems, becomes a referendum to choose the one who can save us.

We were warned. When the people of Israel came to Samuel asking him to appoint a king so they could be “like other nations” (I Samuel 8:4-6), Samuel reported the Lord’s words to the people. “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.” (I Samuel 8:11-17) And we complain about taxes! These are Samuel’s concluding words. “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves . . .” (I Samuel 8:18)

My theory is that the combined scrolls of I & II Samuel and I & II Kings were written to show the truth of that prediction. As that chapter of the history of God’s people winds down, the story of king after king ends with these words: “He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, just as his father had done.” (II Kings 2:9---On this particular occasion, the words were describing Jehoiachin, who reigned for only three months.)

More than one time, scriptures warn, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” (Psalm 146:3)

Revised Common Lectionary Readings:  Isaiah 65:17-25 AND Isaiah 12:1-6 OR Malachi 4:1-2a AND Psalm 98:1-9, II Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19

Many of us were surprised by the election results a couple of days ago.  There has been an almost unprecedented reaction among those who “lost”---depression, anger, demonstrations and disruptions on streets and highways.  We had a medical appointment at 8:15 the next morning.  Margie’s doctor came in, threw her arms around Margie, and began to weep!  One of my sons called trying to find some sanity and meaning with so many all around seeming to stress out.

It cries out for comment.  I doubt that I really have much to offer to what so many have been saying on TV, in print, through the social media.  And this is supposed to be “Thoughts on the Lectionary Passages” for the week, right?

I do think they connect, in a surprising way, with our situation.  The title I’m using is borrowed, as many of you know, from a 1979 movie, Apocalypse Now.  I have to confess that I have not seen the movie, nor have I even studied it much.  Here’s almost all of what I think I know about it.  It is set in the Vietnam War, focusing on Army Special Forces Colonel Kurtz who has gone insane and begun vigilante operations with his own troops.  In the end, he is killed by another officer assigned to bring him to justice.  He dies whispering, "...The horror... the horror..." and dies.

“The horror, the horror”---Those words embody what many connect with the word “apocalypse.”  For some, election day, and the results of that day’s voting, seem like an “apocalypse” and they are crying “the horror, the horror.”  In all fairness, if the election had gone the other way, a different group of people would, in all likelihood, have been reacting in the same way.

I think the context of several of this week’s readings fit the definition of apocalypse. 

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Haggai 1:15b-2:9 AND Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98:1-9 OR Job 19:23-27a AND Psalm 17:1-6, II Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17, Luke 20:27-38

The Bible is full of such rich stories, full of human pathos. Many are familiar. Some we don’t read or hear too often. This week’s reading from Haggai is of the latter kind. We might well begin with the puzzled look, asking, “Who is the Haggai guy anyway?”

Haggai was a prophet who accompanied some of the exiled Hebrew people when they returned to the ruins of Jerusalem. I think it must have looked much like some of those TV images we get of bombed-out Aleppo. Since the reading focuses on the temple ruins, I remembered the images of nuns fleeing the cathedral n L’Aquila, Italy, as a massive earthquake stuck. What will they feel when they return?

As the people stand looking at the destroyed temple, Haggai asks them “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?” (Haggai 2:3) Isn’t that so human? We so often look back and think how wonderful things used to be. If we could just go back.

That's not to belittle the pain these people must have felt.  The loss of significant features of our history cuts off part of our very identity.  I remember a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, then pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City, preached at a national convention of the American Baptist Churches in the USA.  (Riverside Church is affiliated with both the American Baptists, the denomination in which I was serving at the time, and the United Church of Christ, the denomination of this Kairos-Milwaukie congregation---and yes, sermons do sometimes have a lasting impact!)  Like many denominations in the modern era, the American Baptist were in the throes of change.  "Throes" are defined as "intense or violent pain and struggle, especially accompaning birth, death, or great change.  Change is usually not without pain and struggle.  Dr. Forbes used this story from Haggai to address our feelings of be in the middle of such change.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 AND Psalm 119:137-144 OR Isaiah 1:10-18 AND Psalm 32:1-7, II Thessalonians 1:1-4, 10-12, Luke 19:1-10
For All Saints Sunday: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, Psalm 145:1-9, Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 6:20-31

Sorry there was no blog entry last week. We were away and didn’t exercise due diligence in seeing that things were covered.

This week, the question is “What does it mean to be blessed or a saint?” The two are not identical but related. “Blessed” is a word we associate with “The Beatitudes,” one version of which appears in the All Saints Day reading from Luke 6. Beatification, from the same word, is a process used by the Catholic Church to recognize “a dead person's entrance into and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name.” It is a step on the way to being declared a “saint”.

You’ve been with me before when I got obsessed with a word, exploring it from every angle possible. This week it is the word, “blessed”. We pronounce the word in two different ways---one as if it has two syllables: bless-ed. That’s the way we pronounce it when we read the beatitudes. Then, there’s the one syllable version---blest. As far as I could find, there’s absolutely no difference in meaning.

The Greek word used in the beatitudes is “makarios”. It is sometimes translated as simply “happy.” Both J.B. Phillips and Today’s English Version (the Good News Bible) use this word in their translation of the beatitudes. “Happy are you poor; the Kingdom of God is yours! Happy are you who are hungry now; you will be filled! Happy are you who weep now; you will laugh!” (Luke 6:20-22, Good News Bible) “Happy”, especially as it has come to be used in conversation these days, just doesn’t seem to carry a profound depth of meaning for me. I’m reminded of the song that was everywhere a few years back, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Jeremiah 31:27-34 AND Psalm 119:97-104 OR Genesis 32:22-31 AND Psalm 121:1-8, II Timothy 3:13-4:5, Luke 18:1-8

Each Tuesday morning a few of us from Kairos-Milwaukie United Church of Christ gather for breakfast, prayer, and a time of sharing experiences, thoughts, insights, etc. The Revised Common Lectionary texts for the following Sunday provide a starting point.

When I first began leading this group I distributed pages of paper with the full content of all the texts. More recently I have been printing all (or most of) a text I think might be our focus along with brief excerpts from each of the others. Sometimes I come with a suggested question(s) or topic(s) or verse(s) for discussion. Sometimes I simply have the group read what I have printed out and dive in wherever they find something to wonder about or that connects with a personal story one of them has to tell.

The multiple selections offered each week are sometimes rich with meanings and topics and questions to be explored. That was the case this week, at least for me in my own private reading and reflection. Several things came to mind. First, I have heard it said that one of the branches of Judaism (I thought it was Hasidism, but can’t trace down a source) says that you haven’t exhausted the meaning of a scripture until you find 40 different meanings. (Yes, I realize that the number 40 has symbolic significance in the Bible.) In a somewhat parallel way of thinking, I have been told again and again to read the text in anticipation of seeing something new, something I have not seen before---and it happens often enough to make that kind of openness worthwhile.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 AND Psalm 66:1-12 OR II Kings 5:2-3, 7-15c AND Psalm 111:1-10, II Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19

There’s something in us that seems to want to divide the world into good guys (and gals) and bad guys (and gals). It’s in our literature, beginning with the fairy tales we hear from our youngest years---The Big Bad Wolf who is out to get Little Red Riding Hood, the Giant vs. Jack who climbs the beanstalk, the Three Little Pigs and the wolf who threatens to blow them out of house and home, Goldilocks who invades the home of three scary bears, and on and on. Our school years often find us divided into cliques. You’re in or out. (I was mostly “out” but had a few close friends who were “in,” so I was tolerated.) The divisions continue into our adulthood, defined by the color of our skin, the places we live, the clothes we wear, etc. They run rampant in our political system and debates.

Probably from the earliest days, our ancestors were defining themselves tribally, drawing lines between “us” and “them”. Such divisions certainly existed in biblical times---Samaritans and Jews, Jews and Gentiles, clean and unclean (including lepers), Israel and the enemy kingdoms that besieged it. The Good Guys and the Bad Guys.

Both the Gospel lesson and the reading from II Kings contain a double whammy (maybe even a triple whammy). We have lepers and Samaritans, the commander of a foreign army, and an Israeli prisoner of way. Who are the Good Guys and the Bad Guys anyway?

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Lamentations 1:1-6 AND Lamentations 3:19-26 OR Psalm 117:1-9 OR Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 AND Psalm 37:1-9, II Timothy 1:1-4, Luke 17:5-10

A couple of weeks ago, my blog entry talked about “empathy” and our breakfast discussion focused on the things that bring tears to our eyes. Tears are present in almost every one of this week’s lectionary readings. They are the tears of a people in captivity and exile.

My thoughts arise from reading Psalm 137. It speaks of a people in exile pouring out their anguish, unable to find comfort in the old familiar songs. “By the rivers of Babylon---there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1-4)

So---what I want to talk about in this blog entry is “Singing the Blues.” A few of us will remember a 1950’s song by Marty Robbins: “Well, I, never felt more like singin' the blues cause I never thought that I'd ever lose your love dear why'd, you do me this way. Well, I, never felt more like cryin' all night cause everything's wrong there, nothin’ ain't right without you. You got me singin' the blues. The moon and stars no longer shine. The dream is gone I thought was mine. There's nothin' left for me to do but cry over you. Well, I, never felt more like runnin' away but why should I go cause, I couldn’t stay without you. You got me singin’ the blues.” I know it’s not truly a “blues “tune--- “rockabilly,” I guess is what they called it---but the words are those of someone “singing the blues.”

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