Tag Archives: lectionary

The Lion and the lectionary

Chapel on Friday mornings is an abbreviated version of the morning office–we pray, read scripture, recite the Apostle’s Creed and are silent together.  It’s a good time.

In the last couple of weeks, the scripture readings in particular have been quite jarring, but not in the way you might expect. A couple of weeks ago I read from Acts 19:21-41. The bulk of the text is about a riot at Ephesus and the material is largely political in nature.  I kept checking the readings for the day to make sure I wasn’t reading the wrong passage. What a bizarre passage to include as part of the lectionary readings, I thought to myself. What does this tell us about anything? I saw my homiletics professor afterwards and asked him how someone would preach a sermon on that passage.  What’s the big idea in that text?

The lesson, I suppose, is that even if the Bible is inspired and the word of God, it cannot be picked apart willy-nilly. There are some parts of scripture that are unpreachable outside of a wider context.  And even if such a passage functions within a wider context, the passage itself may not have anything to present to use other than information driving the story.

Today in chapel I read from Revelation 9:11-21. It’s a dark passage about plagues and the death of one-third of the earth’s inhabitants. Symbolism and metaphor or not, it was a difficult passage to read and then end with “The word of the Lord” to which the rest of the people replying, “Thanks be to God.”

This is the beauty of the lectionary: it takes us places in scripture we would otherwise not go. To run with C.S. Lewis’ imagery a bit, the lectionary teaches us that the Lion’s word is no tamer than the Lion himself.  Don’t think we know it all, that we have it in our grasp.  It can slip away from us easily, mystify us, frustrate us–maybe even offend us.

And perhaps that’s as it should be.

Sermon #2

I’m speaking in church again on August 10 (a week and a half from now).  I don’t want to say “preaching”, because . . . I don’t know, it makes me uncomfortable.  “Speaking” sounds less . . . well . . . preachy.  I don’t want to preach at people; I want to speak with people (even though, I guess, I’m doing most of the talking).

I’ve been using the Revised Common Lectionary as the starting point for a passage on which to base the sermon.  The lectionary sets out a couple of Old Testament Passages, a couple of Psalms, a Gospel passage and something from an epistle.  What I did for the first sermon was read through all the passages a couple of times and see if anything comes to mind, if I feel inspired in some way about one of the passages, and then I run with it.

There’s no magic to it, folks.  As far as I’m concerned, I could open the Bible at a random spot, eyes closed, hoping against hope that it will not be Galatians 6:11 or Psalm 137:9* or something, and try to make a go of it with whatever passage my finger lands on, but there’s too much chance in that for my tastes.  The other option is to just pick a passage, but I’m to indecisive for that, so I use the lectionary to narrow my options.

In a strange twist of fate, the Gospel for August 10 is Matthew 14:22-33, in which Peter tries to walk on water.  This is the passage on which John Ortberg’s book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, is based, and you may recall that I had a hard time with this book and that it put me into a melancholic mood for some time.

For a while I had the sense that maybe I should speak on that passage, even though I didn’t really want to—that maybe God was trying to force to examine this subject with which John Ortberg had kicked me in the nuts (or at least tried).  Was it coincidence that the lectionary Gospel for the date I was scheduled to speak was Ortberg’s basis for his offending book?  Who knows.

Plus: 1) this is only my second sermon, so the Psalms were out; 2) how do I preach on an Old Testament passage, Psalm or otherwise?, so the other passages from the OT were out; 3) Romans, from which the epistle for August 10 hails, is quite possibly the scariest book in the Bible in terms of understanding, so that was out, too.  What choice did I have, but to go with the Matthew passage (or, I suppose, forget the lectionary altogether [see above])?

As it happens, it was one of the Old Testament passages which inspired me most, so that’s what I’ve been working on.  Thank the Lord.  (That Matthew passage may still come back to haunt me, though.)

*For the record, I think Psalm 137, properly understood, is beautiful psalm.