Monday, August 25, 2014

Lectionary Mess

Dear Lectionary Authors,

I am sure that it was difficult to lay out all of the scripture readings in a three-year cycle. What should get left out? What readings get paired together? What will satisfy the demands of preachers and congregations alike? It was a challenge, and I admire your efforts. Still, I would like to lodge a formal complaint.

No, I am not complaining that too many Sundays give the preacher too little to work with. That might be my gripe ten or fifteen years from now, when all of my creativity has been sapped after six or seven trips through the lectionary. And I am not complaining about how my favorite, esoteric passage of scripture only gets attention on one of those Sundays when Lent is really late or Easter is really early. I am writing to complain about what you did with the gospel readings for the last two Sundays—Propers 16 & 17 in Year A.

For starters, you should have combined these two gospel readings. Yesterday, I heard two independent preachers take the first lesson (Matthew 16:13-20) and deliver a sermon that depends on the second lesson (Matthew 16:21-28). Both of them discussed the consequence of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah in terms of “take up your cross and follow me,” but that’s this coming Sunday’s lesson. What will this week’s preacher do? Preach the same sermon all over again? When a gospel passage (like Peter’s confession) depends so heavily on the passage that follows (like Jesus’ prediction of his death), please—for the love of all that is homiletical—put them together in one reading!

Second, both Sundays’ gospel readings end with lines that are confusing for preachers and congregations alike. Yesterday, it was “Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” This coming Sunday it will be, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Sure, they are in there for a reason, but, unless the preacher wants to preach on that particular topic, they leave people scratching their heads. How can the congregation hear, “…there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man…” and the preacher not preach a sermon about unrealistic expectations of the second coming? The first one—sternly ordering them not to tell—is overcome if you combine the two lessons. The second one could be left off and lengthened if the preacher so chose. (We can lengthen lessons but not shorten them.)

As it is, preachers now need to rehash what was said last week, while trying to avoid misleading people with the last line of the gospel. All of that could have been avoided with some small changes to the lectionary. I notice that after this Sunday you skip all of Matthew 17. Why not combine these two readings from Matthew 16 and then give us the short passage of the coin in the fish’s mouth from 17:24-27

Again, I know you had a tough job, and, for the most part, you did well. But is it too much to ask that you think like a preacher when making these choices?

Yours faithfully,

Evan D. Garner

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