Monday, January 20, 2014

Lectionary Stupidity or Genius?

You know those moments when you say something or do something that directly contradicts something you previously said or did? For example, I once said, "I will never have a Facebook account," but, of course, I now have one. (Even this Luddite can accept the realities of ministry in the 21st century.) Usually, when those moments happen (and for all of us they happen quite a lot), we are the only one who notices. That's because contexts change. Congregations are different. Rarely are the people who heard me say, "Of course I believe that!" back when I was in the eighth grade the same people who hear me say, "I'd never believe that!" as an adult. Even if they were a part of my 13-year-old social circle, who remembers that far back? And who cares?

Sometimes, though, we flip-flop. It happens. And people call us out on it. Three weeks ago I seemed so sure about something, but now I've changed my mind. It helps if I put a little distance or change the audience before I reverse my position, but that can't always happen.

So why in the heck did the authors of the lectionary follow John 1:29-42 with Matthew 4:12-23?

Yesterday, I got up in the pulpit and declared that John the Baptist saw Jesus walking by and proclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God!" in order that Andrew might follow him and then bring his brother Simon to see Jesus for himself. This week (and, yes, I'm preaching this Sunday, too), I am going to get up and say, "Remember what I said about John the Baptist and Jesus and Andrew and Simon? Well, never mind. It turns out that's not how it happened."

This Sunday's gospel lesson has John already locked up before Jesus takes up his "Repent-the-kingdom-is-at-hand" message. John was in prison before Jesus found Andrew and Simon. And Jesus wasn't the one who renamed Simon. It seems that he was always called "Peter."

What were the authors of the lectionary thinking? Did they want preachers to look foolish? Did they want congregations to scratch their heads and wonder what happened? Did they want curates and rectors to get into pulpits on successive Sundays and offer contradictory sermons?

I don't know what was behind their decision, but I choose to embrace it. This is an opportunity to talk about the complexity of scripture by embracing the differences between John and Matthew's account of the same "story." I'm not saying we should pass out copies of both texts and get congregations to circle all the differences, but I do think preachers have an opportunity to talk about the word of God as something more than just "the greatest story ever told." It's a bunch of stories that serve lots of purposes. The bible isn't simple. It doesn't come with easy instructions. As a vehicle through which God reveals himself to the world, scripture requires our best effort. And, on this Sunday, that's especially true.

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