Monday, December 28, 2015

Which Gospel Reading?

You might think that it's a good thing when there are three gospel lessons to choose from, but I think that is a sign of failure. Particularly this Sunday, when we have choices that are duplicates of other important days, choices like that suggest that we are failing as a church to get the story of Jesus Christ to people. 

The first option for Sunday is the story of Herod's slaughter of the innocents. But the Feast of the Holy Innocents has its own observance, which this year, because of how the calendar fell, has been transferred to tomorrow. The third option is the familiar story of the three wise men. Properly called the Epiphany, this reading belongs in one of the principal celebrations of the life of our church, which is supposed to be marked on January 6. Only the second option, the story of Jesus's parents looking for him after leaving him behind in the Jerusalem Temple, has no particular place in our cycle of feasts. If I had to choose one for Sunday, I think I would choose this one but only because I dream of the day when people get to hear the other two standing by themselves.

The more important question, therefore, would be to ask what I, as a minister of the gospel, I've done about that. What have I done to get the story of Jesus to people? Yes, we will transfer the feast of the holy innocents to our Wednesday midweek Eucharist. Yes, this year Epiphany falls on a Wednesday, so we will observe it both at the midweek Eucharist and also at our yearly celebration of the burning of the greens. But, judging from the average weekly attendance at that midweek service, the issue still persists: what will it take to really get the story of Jesus, the exciting, interesting, provocative narrative of God's son into a world that barely isn't very good at listening?

Maybe I'm biased, but I think these few stories surrounding Jesus's birth are interesting stories. Even apart from the proclamation in the pulpit, the narratives themselves are fascinating. And I wonder whether a secular society might hear these ancient tales, these larger-than-life stories, as something worth listening to. But we need to get that word to them without requiring them to come to church.

When was the last time you went to a Blockbuster Video to check out a movie? Redbox has replaced that phenomenon, and it succeeds largely by allowing you to check out a DVD in Memphis and return it in Birmingham and do so in places that you are already trafficking like grocery stores and drugstores. In other words, convenience is key. Freedom trumps. But streaming videos one services like Netflix and Amazon and Hulu or quickly replacing even the low-cost Redbox option. Why would you want to leave the house if you didn't need to? If we have good news to share but we are waiting on people to come to us, we might as well open a Blockbuster Video and wait for people to come in to check out the message of Jesus.

Actually, I don't think there's anything wrong with our lectionary choices this week. The preacher should choose whichever lesson she or he enjoys the most. And then, after we've written Sunday's sermon, we should wonder to ourselves how we might carry the message of the gospel beyond the walls of our churches. Maybe it's interesting narratives or questions or videos or interactive engagements through media like Facebook or websites or YouTube. Maybe it's an afterschool tutoring program where we invest in the lives of children as much as God has invested in us by being born as a child. Those gospel conversations can only arise when a relationship exists. And we have to pursue relationships rather than wait for people to come to us. 

I don't have the answer. I don't think anyone has the single answer, but I'm willing to try something new. I'm willing to try something that doesn't work. I willing to reach out, to go out, and see if something will work. But I believe that we have a good story to tell. We have good news to share--news that the world wants to hear. Sunday's choices of gospel lessons is a sign that we don't need to worry about changing our message. We need to focus on the means through which that message is conveyed.


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