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Saturday, January 5, 2019

In praise of the Lectionary

The Episcopal Lectionary, to someone coming from another tradition, is a fascinating thing. I remember being in Presbyterian churches where we tried it out (after all, the concept of a set series of Scripture readings isn't just our possession, and there is a lot of common ground among the lectionaries), but we would get tired and go back to our old undisciplined ways. After all, one point of a lectionary is that you don't really get to choose what Scripture to read or preach from this Sunday. I've gotten to love it, though:
  • A preacher can tell—years in advance—exactly what the readings will be for this Sunday. The Friday morning panic ("What on earth am I going to preach about?") isn't nearly so intense. This Friday panic is the reason some churches never get away from the preacher's three favorite verses. Yup! I was in that church for a while.
  • If you stick around in an Episcopal church for three years, you get to hear at least 90% of the Bible read. I was in a church once where the preacher spent five years on the book of Romans. It's a great piece of Scripture, but honestly, there are 65 other books!
  • One of the great doctrines is that the whole Bible is a product of God's mind. The Bible is a commentary on itself. On a typical Sunday in our parish, we hear a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a reading from a Gospel, and a reading from some other part of the New Testament. Someone, somewhere, put those together so they usually have a theme. That's very sound thinking because any doctrine that's based on only one verse or two is likely to be very weak and flimsy. If you see three or four passages working the same theme, you are on much firmer ground.
  • When I was in seminary, our homiletics professor said he never wanted to hear a student preach the "Jesus only" sermon from Matthew 17:8. Every student seemed to have one of those in his file, totally ignoring the point that the passage is not about Jesus as the only way to heaven. (And you have to use the King James Version to get those two words together—if you use the New International Version and quote the whole verse, you get "When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus." It's the end of the narrative about the Transfiguration.) Getting large chunks of Bible in context helps keep us away from two-word doctrine.
So here's a plan. As a personal discipline I'm going to look at the Episcopal Lectionary Page every Saturday. (Note: The lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer has changed a bit. This is the one we're using.) I'm very undisciplined, so if I hit this 26 times in the next year, I'll be doing well. On Saturday, I'll try to write some sort of response to the Scriptures. (I'm choosing Saturday, not Sunday afternoon, because I don't want the implied message to be "Sunday's preacher was wrong—this is what it really said.")

I hope this can get me back into the business of Scripture meditation.

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