Monday, August 1, 2016

Lectionary Sigh

As I've written before, my weekly pattern is to wake up on Monday morning, say the office of Morning Prayer, and then read the lessons for the upcoming Sunday. Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I was already excited about preaching this coming Sunday. I picked up my phone and started to navigate to the lectionary page to see what the coming readings were be, but I stopped. I put my phone down and decided that it could wait until today. I'm glad I did. If I had read the gospel lesson for this Sunday (Luke 12:32-30), I may not have been able to sleep.

Part of my disappointment in the gospel lesson comes from reading the other two lessons: Genesis 15 (Abraham's justification by faith) and Hebrews 11 (faith is the assurance of things not seen). Even the opening line of the psalm (Psalm 33:12) is powerful: "Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord! * happy the people he has chosen to be his own!" After reading those passages, I was excited to see what the gospel held. And then I actually read it.

This seems like a bizarre passage. It's like a cobbled together presentation that a junior staffer is making to an increasingly disappointed board of directors. Luke seems to have strung together some teachings of Jesus without any regard to the flow of the passage. "Don't be afraid," Jesus said. "Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses that won't wear out--purses for heaven, where your treasure should be. And dress for action, and be alert because you don't know when the master is coming back."

When it comes to "don't worry," Matthew does so much better in recording the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus uses the images of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field to get the point across. Likewise, when it comes to "keep watch," Matthew's version of the parable of the bridesmaids is so much clearer. Luke seems to be pulling in that source but doesn't quite do it all the way.

Some of the preacher's challenge will be to decide whether to separate the gospel lesson into two different themes, leaving one of them aside for another day, or trying to tie in the theme of stewardship (don't worry, give alms, store up treasure in heaven) with the theme of keeping watch. I think one can preach a sermon that makes keeping watch an expression of stewardship, but I don't think that preacher is me.

The line that interests me the most in this passage is "Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out." That's unique to Luke--a turn of phrase worth celebrating. Don't tell anyone from St. John's, but I have a feeling this is going to turn into a stewardship sermon--not asking for a pledge but inviting people to live for the kingdom by storing up treasure in heaven. Or maybe I'll preach on Genesis 15 or even on Psalm 33. Good thing it's only Monday: I'm going to need the whole week to get ready for this.

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