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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 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.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 22:1-14 AND Psalm 13:1-6, Jeremiah 28:5-9 AND Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

The lectionary readings for each week aren’t necessarily intended to convey a common theme. They usually offer sufficient variety to stimulate our reflections in multiple directions---offering a potpourri of insights so to speak.

Although the word “potpourri” originally meant “a mixture of flowers, herbs, and spices . . . used for scent,” it has come to mean any miscellaneous collection of things. One definer offers “medley” as a synonym. Maybe by using the word, we can experience this week’s scriptures as full of fragrance or offering music to our ears like a choral medley of tunes.

So, I’ll comment on each reading, offering enough at least, I hope, to stimulate and sustain us in our daily spiritual pilgrimage.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 21:8-21 AND Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Jeremiah 20:7-13 AND Psalm 69:7-18, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39

Shaming and bullying have been around for a long time, probably at least as long as there have been human beings, and some of it is likely rooted in earlier animal instincts.

We may not like the way it is described or expressed in some of this week’s lectionary passages. I don’t take these stories as models to be followed, or detailed and accurate descriptions of God’s behavior. They are real life and invite us to consider experiences of shame and shaming, or bullying, in our own lives and in the world around us.

In a mild way, those things happened to me regularly when I was an adolescent. An ardent, and perhaps bit offensive, conservative Christian, I endured the taunts of my peers when I didn’t conform to “the ways of the world.” Although I had a cadre of close friends (mostly religious), I often felt a bit isolated.

Shame is defined as “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety, . . . a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute.” When it is used as a verb, it means to deliberately cause someone to feel that pain, guilt, or disgrace, whether it is deserved or not. Often, these days, at least, it seems to be something done with the clear intention to hurt---sometimes pushing the victims to suicide.

So, let’s look at the human experiences and expressions in this week’s readings.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7 AND Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, Exodus 19:2-8a AND Psalm 100:1-5, Romans 5:1-8, Matthew 9:25-10:23

It took a long time for me to venture into texting. Now I find great joy in the enhancement of family connections it has brought. Even if you don’t text, many of you have probably heard LOL, which stands for “laugh out loud” or “laughing out loud.”

There’s a bit of laughing in our reading from Genesis this week, but what I want to say takes us beyond laughing. In making a call for more laughter in our response to God, let it be a call to unrestrained exuberance, to the full expression of feeling and emotion.

Psalm 100, another of this week’s readings, calls us to “make a joyful noise . . . Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing . . . Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.” (Psalm 100:1-2, 4) Feel deeply and let those feelings overflow. Offer them up to God.

There’s a plaque that moved with me from office to office during my ministry. “Feel deeply, enjoy simply, think freely, take risks, welcome love, be who you really are.” It now hangs, believe it or not in my bathroom. Make of that what you will. It begins with feeling deeply.

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