Monday, July 13, 2009

Using the lectionary to evangelical advantage

With the help of Bosco Peters of Liturgy I am getting my head around some of the intricacies of the Revised Common Lectionary. For instance, one beef I have with RCL, indeed with any lectionary offering continuous readings through books of the Bible is that it will (apparently) miss a passage. But sometimes, as Bosco has pointed out to me, with due diligence, one can come across the passage elsewhere in the year. Thus Romans 13:1-7 might be missed out, only to pop up on a day with political significance such as July 4th. That, of course, means that lectionaries come from a context, and we in Aotearoa New Zealand might need to do some work on making appropriate contextual adjustments when we source our version of a lectionary such as the RCL from another country!

But the matter I wish to underline here re the RCL is that it's origins in the Roman Catholic church should not cloud its advantages for evangelical preachers. For (ideally) what do evangelical preachers want to do? We want to preach the Word of God - the whole Word of God written, and nothing but that Word. In reality few if any preachers follow the simple plan of starting in Genesis 1 and working through to Revelation 22. There are 1189 chapters in the Bible. If one preached a chapter each Sunday morning and a chapter each Sunday evening this simple plan would take 595 Sundays, or more than 11 years. Longer if only one sermon per Sunday; even longer if we felt that some parts of the Bible deserved more than one sermon per chapter! Most preachers of evangelical persuasion actually have a more modest aim: to preach through as much of the Bible as reasonable in a given cycle of years, reserving the right to begin with the richest material (Paul's epistles, for example), to spend less time in the Old Testament than the New (despite the former being longer than the latter), and to skip or skate through the thinnest chapters (has anyone ever preached through every chapter of Jeremiah, especially the last 15 or so?). In other words, few if any evangelical preachers simply start at the beginning of the Bible and soldier through to the end. Some scheme, according to some design is followed, in which preaching through the Bible is 'well-managed'.

Some of us will have experienced evangelical contexts in which there is no long-term scheme, a clue to which is given when one is invited to preach and told, 'just speak on whatever the Lord puts in your heart'!

Here is where the RCL comes in for evangelicals: it is a scheme for preaching through Scripture, it has a design, it is well thought out and reflects the wisdom of many minds, not just one. The added bonus is that when we preach to the RCL we enable our hearers to share in the common experience of millions of Christians around the world all listening to the same Scriptures being read. The sermon we offer will be different to the minister or priest's offering down the road and over in Rio de Janeiro, but it's foundation will be the same. Thus we might contribute to a true joining in prayer and praise with 'all the saints'!


Dave Clancey said...

I share your beef about the 'continuous' nature of the RCL. And while I can appreciate Bosco's point about texts coming up in other places in the year, that argument appears to assume that texts can be picked up and moved around in the canon - that what is important is the simple fact that they are read - and where they are read is of less importance. But the Bible hasn’t been constructed like that – as so many have been so keen to point out, God has not given us a set of divine propositions – rather he has given us carefully crafted literature. For example, I’m sure you, like me, are currently preaching through Mark’s gospel. Yet the RCL omitted the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, and thus omitted a clear piece of the evidence which Mark offers as to the authority held by Christ – over nature (4:35-41), disease (5:25-34), and even death (5:21-24; 35-43). Similarly, the Markan sandwich of the sending out of 12 (6:7-13; 30) which is arranged around the account of Herod and John the Baptist was set out in the RCL over three weeks! I note too that later in the year that account of the ‘partial’ healing in Mark 8:22-26 is omitted. I’m not sure how we’re to preach on Peter’s confession of Christ 8:29 and Jesus’ subsequent rebuke in the following verses without first dealing with Christ’s miracle in 8:22-26. So I share your beef – now all we need is to figure out what to do about it!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Dave
Your comment is welcome - not merely because it supports my conjecture that the RCL is not perfect as a means of a 'continuous' preaching through Scripture, but because you tie it to specific insights into Markan scholarships, insights which we miss to our impoverishment, if, in a literalistic manner we miss the appropriate passages out.

In fact I shall cite your comment in a post to see if further comment is offered!