What’s Up With The Narrative Lectionary?

In my wonderings around the interweb last night, I stumbled across the Narrative Lectionary. My curiosity was peaked and so I started to research this new Lectionary. Up until last night, I had never heard of the Narrative Lectionary (NL) before and was surprised to learn it was put together in 2010 by Luther Seminary, an ELCA Seminary. This surprised me because I’m a Lutheran of the ELCA variety. The NL is being put forth as an alternative lectionary to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).

In all honesty, if I knew about this back in 2010 or even 2014, I would have been all over it. I was very much into Shane Claiborne, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber and the like. But as I’ve gotten older and have become more mature as a Christian, I’ve changed. And taking a year off of church has really put some things into perspective (This is a long story and best told at another time).

I’m going to be up front. I love the RCL. The RCL does have its issues; but, the RCL is used in churches all over the world, across denomination. I can go into a Roman Catholic Church, a Moravian Church, an Episcopal Church, or any number of churches that use the RCL and hear (more or less) the same texts. In my opinion, the widespread usage of the RCL speaks to the unity of the church.

So, why did the creators of the Narrative Lectionary feel that is was necessary?

Though the Revised Common Lectionary has united the church in its reading of scripture and has given much-needed structure, it doesn’t present scripture — especially the Old Testament — in a way that helps people to become fluent in the first language of faith. The Narrative Lectionary is an attempt to take nine months to do just that.

So how do they go about doing this? It’s probably easier to compare the RCL to the NL. Below is a list of reading for the next three weeks in the Church year.

 

  Week  Revised Common Lectionary  Narrative Lectionary
Ascension of The Lord Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47 or 93, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53 1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57 or Mark 12:26-27a
 Pentecost Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17, (25-27) Acts 2:1-4, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13, or Mark 1:4-8
 Trinity Sunday Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15 Start of Summer Sermon Series

I’ve emphasized the “or” in the NL reading because the Gospel isn’t always the primary text.

When the primary text is not from a Gospel, there is an accompanying Gospel text suggested. So during the fall when the primary readings are taken from the Old Testament, and in the spring when primary readings come from the Epistles, a Gospel reading is provided in the schedule. When the primary reading is from the Gospel, the accompanying reading is taken from the Psalms.

To be fair, the text chosen to preach from in the RCL may not necessarily be the Gospel, but the Gospel is alway there. In fact, where there is an “or” in the RCL, it’s between non-Gospel texts. But this does bring to light my first concern, the NL does not appear to be focused on the Gospel. The entire Bible is the story of Salvation history, that culminates in the Gospel and continues to today. This site does an excellent job of summing up the lectionary and how the readings are centered around the Gospel.

I’ve already alluded to my second concern, that the NL doesn’t foster unity. Like I said, the nice thing about worshipping in a church that uses the RCL is knowing that I am united in my brothers and sisters in Christ through the reading as well as the Eucharist. I am hearing the same texts that they are. The same can’t be said for the NL.

One might also make the claim that the NL is attempting to turn the sermon into something that it’s not meant to be: a Bible study. Why proclaim the mystery of scripture through four texts when an intensive look can be done at one? Now I’m being facetious here. But yes, I think that the NL does, to some degree, water down the mystery of the faith by limiting the pastor to one to two texts each week.

My final concern is that, on first look, the NL tends to emphasize and validate the shrinking attention span that seems to be afflicting the church today. I have no problem sitting through four readings. But throughout the years, starting with my internship during seminary, the four became two. And now, we dropped into the one to two range. In essence, we are catering to the lowest common denominator and boring the rest of us. We are dumbing down worship instead lifting up the lowest common denominator in their journey of faith. We are stifling the growth of our brothers and sisters in Christ instead of challenging them to grow beyond their current understanding of Scripture.

I have to say, as a Lutheran, I’m disappointed that some at Luther Seminary even felt the need for the NL. I do not think the church needs a new lectionary. I also think more discernment is needed concerning the NL. Maybe I’m missing something or misinterpreted something I’ve read.

6 Free Accordance Webinars This Week

Abram here with a short post on some free webinars Accordance Bible Software is offering this week. Joel has reviewed the software here, here, and here.

I’ve attended a few Accordance webinars, and they’re always informative and well-done. I also teach a couple webinars now, which is a lot of fun. I’m leading one on Friday:

Setting Up Workspaces with Abram K-J
Friday, August 21, 12:00 – 1:00 PM

Abram will gear this session toward the basic-level Accordance user. The webinar is interactive throughout, offering users a chance to see how to set up, customize, and save a Workspace in Accordance.

Here is what I’ll cover:

  1. Terminology: Panes, Tabs, Zones, Workspaces
  2. Setting Up a Simple Workspace: Bible, Commentary, User Notes
  3. Setting Up a More Robust Workspace: Multiple Bible Texts, Multiple Commentaries, and Tools
  4. Creating Different Workspaces for Different Tasks
  5. Multiplying the Power of Workspaces: Sessions
  6. Additional Q and A

See all of this week’s free webinars here.

2 Samuel 7: Is It About Jesus?

Hello, good readers of Unsettled Christianity. This is Abram K-J of Words on the Word. Joel made the mistake kind move of inviting me to contribute to his fine blog… so here I am!

I begin simply with a cross-post, because I’ve already seen some incisive responses in the comments to a post at WotW: Is 2 Samuel 7 About Jesus?

I suggest that 2 Samuel 7:14b can’t apply to Jesus:

When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings.

But all the “forever” language in that passage clearly seems to be about more than just the next generation, and even messianic.

What do you think? How do you make sense of the passage? Feel free to comment at the original post, or right here in the comments section.

Christmas: The Time for Feminism (Repost – 2014)

Crucifixion with Mary Magdalen
Image via Wikipedia

The post from Dr. Gayle mentioned below is still one of my favorites. I have updated it just a little and will continue to repost it at Christmas time.

I am no feminist. I am not involved in the egalitarian debate nor the complegalitarian debate. I believe that a woman has her proper place in the house; however, so does the man for that matter. One is not Lord over the Lady, however, as I do not agree with the old Southern Baptist definition of ‘submission’. I am no feminist, but if I were, I perhaps  would celebrate Christmas as a sacred holiday. It is the birth of Christ, in the manner that it happened, in which women were freed from the tyranny of the Law, and the first event in Christianity relying such much on the Woman.

There was a post several years ago which has found root in my mind, nurturing a better understanding of bible translation, voices contained therein, and the audience. (It not merely the words which are read, but how we perceive those words that hold value to a translator) I realize that it might be impossible to believe that such a post could do these things, but it was one of the first posts that I read from the author commonly known as J. K. Gayle. It would be impolite to repost his entire post here, but allow me to post some and you go read the rest (after you read mine, of course. For his post, go here. He adds a new voice to the Nativity)

Let’s think about Mary, for a minute.

It was a terrible time in Palestine – the priesthood corrupt, Jews turning on Jews, the king a despot, and Rome raping more than the Land. In the midst of this, there was a young girl named Mary (Or Miriam, if you are Jewish). Mary would have been a young Jewish girl, somewhere between the age of 12 and 16 (if we were to stretch it) while her intended, Joseph would have been a man some years her senior. Her family was most likely strict followers of the Torah, as the cousin‘s husband’s was a member of the inner priesthood. They ‘espoused her’ (marriage unconsummated) to a man in the traditional way. Suddenly, due to no fault of her own, she had the hope of the world thrust upon her shoulders, and in such a way as to cause great concern among those that saw such a young and unmarried girl with child.

There is much to be explored in the Birth of Christ. As Dr. Gayle points out, there is the audience, who perhaps some years later, perhaps transformed by the One born that very night, would read of the account. We too form a certain audience today, in that we are far removed from the culture to which Christ was born. We are far removed from Mary, and fail to see her for who she truly was and what the ordeal most likely meant to her. There is, as always, much to discuss concerning any account given in the Scriptures, but we focus only slightly on Mary.

This is Mr. Gayle’s translation,

18 τοῦ δὲ ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ ἡ γένεσις οὕτως ἦν. μνηστευθείσης τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ μαρίας τῶ ἰωσήφ, πρὶν ἢ συνελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εὑρέθη ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου.
This is the birth of the Anointed, Joshua. His mother Miriam was engaged to Josef; before they came together she held in her womb a child who came by the Breath of the Special One.

19 ἰωσὴφ δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ αὐτῆς, δίκαιος ὢν καὶ μὴ θέλων αὐτὴν δειγματίσαι, ἐβουλήθη λάθρᾳ ἀπολῦσαι αὐτήν.
Josef, her man, her husband, a just person who didn’t wish to make a show of her, counseled secretly to release her from himself.

20 ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐνθυμηθέντος ἰδοὺ ἄγγελος κυρίου κατ᾽ ὄναρ ἐφάνη αὐτῶ λέγων,
ἰωσὴφ υἱὸς δαυίδ, μὴ φοβηθῇς παραλαβεῖν μαρίαν τὴν γυναῖκά σου, τὸ γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν ἐκ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἁγίου·
These inner passions of his were angst. See. An announcer of the Master, in a dream, appeared to him to state:
“Josef, son of David, don’t be afraid to take beside you Miriam, your woman, your wife; the baby birthed in her, in fact, is by the Breath of the Special One.

21 τέξεται δὲ υἱὸν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἰησοῦν, αὐτὸς γὰρ σώσει τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν.
She will deliver a son, and you will call his name Joshua; he will, in fact, save his people from their wrongdoings.”

22 τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑπὸ κυρίου διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,
These events were born out entirely so that the things spoken by the Master would be fulfilled through the Prophet who stated:

23 ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσουσιν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐμμανουήλ, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν ὁ θεός.
“See, the young virgin will hold in her womb a child, and will bear a son, and will call his name Emmanouel,” which is translated “With us is God.”

24 ἐγερθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕπνου ἐποίησεν ὡς προσέταξεν αὐτῶ ὁ ἄγγελος κυρίου καὶ παρέλαβεν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ·
When Josef got up from his sleep, he did what the announcer of the Master told him, and he took beside himself his woman, his wife.

25 καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὖ ἔτεκεν υἱόν· καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἰησοῦν.
And he did not know her until after she delivered her son; and he called his name Joshua.

Like any other man, the Christ child came into the world, born of a woman, perhaps the most central woman since Eve.

I also am mortal, like all men, a descendant of the first-formed child of earth; and in the womb of a mother I was molded into flesh, within the period of ten months, compacted with blood, from the seed of a man and the pleasure of marriage. And when I was born, I began to breathe the common air, and fell upon the kindred earth, and my first sound was a cry, like that of all. I was nursed with care in swaddling cloths. For no king has had a different beginning of existence; there is for all mankind one entrance into life, and a common departure. (Wisdom 7:1-6 RSVA) (Note here and here)

Christ came not dependent upon man, or independent of any, but dependent upon His mother. Just as any child, he would had fed of His mother, being nurtured in a way to protect His life. In as much, He never dismissed a woman for being a woman, but pressed them, or was pressed by them, to a point that  a great spiritual truth was manifested for the entire world. First, it was the prophetess Anna (Luke 2.38) which announced just a short time after His birth, that He was to bring redemption. It was His mother who in Cana pressed Christ to start His ministry.  It was the prostitute in Jerusalem (John 8 – yes, I know) where Christ showed what forgiveness under Grace would be. Further  it was the Greek (Gentile) woman in Mark 7 that pressed Christ to shed His grace beyond that of Israel, to the Gentiles. Finally (perhaps not), it was Mary Magdalen which announced Christ Risen to the cowering disciples.

It it these voices which we hear when we mediate upon Mary. Imagine being in the shoes of that young girl who had just been given the Blessing of Abraham, the Inheritance of the Faithful, the Word of God. She most likely would have had nothing to her name – her husband having given her ransom to her parents – yet she had suddenly become the richest woman in all the world, and indeed, the most hated and hunted. Yet is was her who was considered the most blessed among women (Luke 1.42).

Her song has been remembered, sometimes falsely, since it was first written down by Luke.

And Mary said:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”  (Luke 1:46-55 NKJV)

It might do us well to put ourselves in the shoes of Mary, and perhaps the other women as we read this account, who sought Christ and pressed Him during this season that is focused on the birth of the Child but generally ignoring the womb which bore Him. In this season which we focus on the birth of the Child who would give His life for the salvation of all, we must not forget the womb which carried Him, and the breast which nurtured Him, and the mother who raised Him. It is not unconstitutional for either a fundamentalist or an evangelical to consider Mary in the light which she is portrayed in Scripture and the unwritten words found only in a culture long dead.

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The Unimportance of the Virgin Birth (Repost – 2014)

Annunciation (greek icon)
Image via Wikipedia

We have four gospels in the New Testament, but half of them mention the Virgin Birth (Matthew and Luke), and only at the announcement of that Birth. Further, that means only two books of the 27 in the New Testament mention the Virgin Birth. There is nothing beyond Matthew and Luke in the entire New Testament pertaining to the Virgin Birth (although Galatians 4.4 might allude to in a strictly Pauline way).

Why?

This is a pivotal prophecy – one which no Messiah could do with out. Granted the Jews believe that the Hebrew means ‘young woman’ and indeed, it very well may. (Of course, what great sign from God would be a young woman with child?) Of course the Septuagint’s Translators understood Isaiah to mean ‘virgin’. Even without the prophesy in Isaiah, we have the words of God in Genesis concerning the Messiah being of the seed of a woman (Genesis 3.15). The first mention of the Messiah concerns the Virgin Birth – yet, again, it is mentioned twice in the New Testament.

This point is used by scholars and liberal theologians to attack the Virgin Birth. But what is the answer? Why, if the Virgin Birth is so important to the Messiah, is it mentioned briefly, twice, in the New Testament?

The answer is simple. The great majority of Scripture was written by the Apostle Paul. He was not writing to unbelievers, but to long-established congregations. He was writing doctrine for the Church, not to the unbelievers. It was not Luke’s job in Acts to detail to the unbelievers prophesies of Christ, as his was the history of the Church. According to Papias,

Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.

We find that Mark is the preachings of Peter – Mark wrote as Peter preached. (This does not line up with the scholarly ‘Q’ source, but Papias is rather old.) John wrote his gospel to fill in the gaps, which is evident by his epilogue,

And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31 NKJV)

So, John wrote what the others did not, and for a purpose, to declare without a doubt the deity of Christ. He started at the very beginning (John 1.1), before the Virgin Birth, but allude to the act of the divine in the birth (John 1.14).

Matthew wrote to a community, most likely of converts and unbelievers, as did Luke. Mark was transcripts of preaching; John had a different agenda of deity. Paul wrote to established congregations, to affirm their faith and to establish a continuing doctrine for the Church as did Peter, James, and Jude. It is not mentioned by Paul because it was unnecessary to to bring up such a basic principle of Christ for those Christians who were years removed from conversion.

The Virgin Birth was not the Evangelists’ way of exploring the uniqueness of Christ, nor was it a myth conjured from surrounding paganism. The indwelling of the Virgin by the Spirit (Breath) of God is the initial sign of the coming salvation. It is a real event, meaningful to the Jews as a sign of the Messiah. It was used to show that Christ was the promised Messiah, God with us, and indeed, to the Gentiles to show that He alone fulfilled the prophesies. Once past the miracles, as with Paul, it was necessary to build up sound doctrine that relied upon Tradition and Scripture. It was not that the Virgin Birth was unknown to Paul or refuted by Paul, but it was not Paul’s mission to those congregations, to relay the foundation of the truth of Christ.

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