I don’t know a whole lot about the history of the Lectionary. I guess I could at least do a basic search on Wikipedia, but not right now. Clearly, someone put a lot of time and thought into the selection of passages because they fit well with the Christian calendar.
For example, it’s Lent right now. A seven week period leading up to Easter. This year for Lent I decided to follow the Lectionary Gospel readings which happen to all be from Luke. Not having done a ton of digging into each passage ahead of time, I surmised that the readings would help the disciple of Jesus look inward, be penitent for sin, and seek to eradicate sin in advance of the grand celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter.
But each week what we have found is a thread around the idea of movement. In every single reading, there is a clear emphasis on the idea of movement in our lives away from sin and toward Jesus..
Much to the glee of some in our church family, at the end of each sermon, I have called for people to make an outward physical move symbolizing what is hopefully an inward spiritual reality.
One week it was the traditional “come forward to kneel at the altar.” We have strong revivalist roots in our tradition, and I praise God for the response.
The next week I asked people to write on the Scribble cards we have in the hymnal racks on each of our pews. They could write a sin they were struggling with, or anything they wanted to talk about, and give it to me or another person with whom they could talk further. Again, it was wonderful to see the response.
Last week during Silent Sunday, one of youth leaders had a great idea that we used. We handed each person, upon entering the sanctuary, a “Hello my name is…” sticker badge, but we instructed them to wait to write on it until they received instructions in the sermon. Being Silent Sunday the sermon was on-screen. Just as the Prodigal Son (a wonderful story of movement) did not feel worthy to be called “son”, but instead felt he was only worthy to be called “servant,” we asked people to write a false name on the badge. Perhaps it was a name they were called by someone, a name that hurt. Or maybe it was a name they call themselves in the quietness of their own minds, but still a name that is not true. They were then to peel off the badge, place it on their shirt, and walk to the front of the sanctuary where we had placed the large cross we use for our Good Friday Cross Walk. People could then remove the badge, place it on the cross, symbolizing the new life that Jesus makes possible for us through his death and resurrection. Then at the foot of the cross there were baskets with pre-printed badges that said “Hello my name is Son of the King” or “Daughter of the King.” They could then take a badge that has their true name, and place it on their shirt. This received the biggest response of all.
So here I am again, on the eve of preaching yet another sermon about movement. Many people call this week’s passage “The Parable of the Tenants” (Luke 20:9-19). It is better titled “The Killer Tenants.” I’ll be honest. There is part of me that is thinking “Enough already…people are going to get sick of what is essentially the same sermon four Sundays in a row.” If you read the parable, you’ll see why I’m saying this. Don’t get me wrong. These are four different passages, and I have studied and written four brand new sermons each week. And yet I wonder if people are going to start feeling tired of it.
Before I get too far down that road, I go back to the genius of the Lectionary. Some of you might not be aware of what the Lectionary is. To keep it simple, it is a plan for pastors to select biblical passages to preach on each week. Each week there are four passages, one each from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels and the New Testament. In many churches that follow the Lectionary, each of the passages are read aloud during the worship service. The sermon might focus on one, or if the pastor is particularly creative they will weave together all four. In three years, if you follow the Lectionary, you will have covered a wide swath of the Bible. It is an ancient plan that has been revised over the years, and it is amazing.
As I think about the selection of these passages from Luke for Lent, I realize that they come from the life and ministry of Jesus. People who watched him, followed him and listened to him must have thought he sounded like a broken record. Let’s face it, he repeats himself quite a bit. Though the Lectionary selections in Luke for Lent are purposefully chosen to emphasize the need to remove sin and commit fully to Jesus, I suppose it wouldn’t have been all that hard to come up with the instances in Luke where Jesus himself is talking about these themes. He speaks about them all the time. So may that be instructive to us. Just when we’re feeling sick of being harped on for being sinful and needing to commit more fully to Jesus, he says it again.
But here’s the kicker. Why would he do that? To make us feel guilty? Not at all! Instead he speaks this truth to us because he loves us and wants to show us the abundant life that only he can offer. He sees us captivated by lesser things. And doesn’t American culture promise us the good life, only to re-neg on that promise by giving us much less than what we thought? It reminds of me playing all those games at our local LaserTag establishment. Skee-ball, basketball shots, the game where you roll a token down a slot and try to get it in the bull’s-eye, or the game where you try to push the button when a light is flying around a circle and your button-push stops the light on a numbered circle, and you’re hoping to get the jackpot? Then you get tickets for winning these games. You turn your tickets into the ticket-eater and it pops out a receipt. You’re all excited from winning pocket-fulls of tickets, and it feels great to load them into the ticket-eater. You take your receipts for 368 points to the prize counter, only to be slapped in the face with the reality that you’re thousands of the points short of the iPod. You walk away with gummy bracelets. Jesus says I have an iPod waiting for you and your are gorging yourself on gummy bracelets.
Do you know anyone who bought into our culture’s idea of happiness and fulfillment only to be severely disappointed and disillusioned? Maybe it was you.
We need movement.