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.

St. John Chrysostom on keeping Christmas

6-188 This greeting on thy impious crest
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Yesterday, although it was a feast-day of Satan, you preferred to keep a spiritual feast, recieving our words with great good will, and spending most of the day here in church, drinking a drunkness of self-control, and dancing in the chorus of Paul. – On Wealth and Poverty, Sermon 1

The feast day that John mentions is Saturnalia. Many have painted the corruption of the Church with the brush of conspiracy, but here we see that it was not conspiracy, but a matter of people choosing to hold a worship servicce as opposed to partaking in the feast of Saturnalia.

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Dear UMC: Please No New Denominations

cross-flame

Personal Note

This is the first time I’m writing a blog post for Unsettled Christianity—or any blog post, for that matter. I want to thank Joel Watts for the opportunity to share these thoughts on Unsettled Christianity.

Schism—a sad possibility

If for some reason you are not familiar with the current state of the United Methodist Church as a denomination, here are some helpful perspectives:

I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the uncertain future of the United Methodist Church because I love the UMC, and even now, am hopeful for its future. I want to make one thing clear: I am absolutely committed to serving the UMC. As a recently ordained elder in full connection with the Rio Texas Conference, I intend to serve Christ’s church through this denomination for as long as it exists, or until, God willing, I retire many decades from now, whichever comes first.

But at this point, to deny the possibility of schism in the UMC is to deny reality. Given that sad reality, I want to share some perspectives about the UMC’s future, especially with respect to the possibility of a schism. If the UMC ceases to exist as one body, I believe our congregations should join existing Christian denominations. I believe that new denominations would only serve to further divide the body of Christ.

Unity in the Body of Christ—a biblical mandate

I have strongly opposed the dissolution of the United Methodist Church for one simple reason: God wants the church to stay united. The psalms tell us “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father for unity amongst Christ followers (John 17:20-23). The Apostle Paul reminds us that all believers are part of one body, for we’re all baptized by the same Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). We believe in one God, one faith in Jesus Christ, and one Spirit who gives us the ability to live in peace and unity (Ephesians 4:3-6). That’s why John Wesley preached against the possibility of schism from his own Church of England five years before his death. It’s why Karl Barth referred to the division of the global church as a “scandal” (Church Dogmatics, Volume IV.1, New York: T&T Clark Intl., 1956, pg. 677).

Pursuing Unity—even when a church body splits

Of course, if unity were the only biblical value, no church body would ever split. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches would never have split. Luther never would have left the Catholic Church. The global church would not consist of something like seven major ecclesial global blocs. In the previously cited sermon, John Wesley says that,

Suppose you could not remain in the Church of England without doing something which the word of God forbids, or omitting something which the word of God positively commands; if this were the case, (but blessed be God it is not) you ought to separate from the Church of England.

Nonetheless, the occasional necessity of institutional separation does not negate Scripture’s command for the church to seek unity. A divided church offers a confused and divided witness to the world about the power and love of God in Jesus Christ. Therefore, even when one must separate from a church body, one must seek as much unity as possible within the global church.

A Modest Proposal—No New Denominations. Period.

Regardless of the future of the UMC, we’re called as Christ followers to seek, as much as possible and with the Spirit’s help, unity with the global church. Many within the UMC seek such unity, and I applaud them for their efforts. In the seven months I’ve served in my current appointment, I’ve connected with many local pastors from other denominations, and I treasure those connections. Especially with the sad possibility of schism arising over the next few years, I believe we should all take a step back and assess our role within the global church.

Given these reflections, I believe one thing for sure: the world does not need any more Christian denominations. We have already split in so many ways that the global church must seek greater connection, for such connection leads to a stronger witness of the power and love of Jesus Christ. Such unity, of course, does not require uniformity. Different ministries and cultural contexts require different evangelistic and missional strategies, and in many cases different worship styles. Nonetheless, splitting a denomination and forming new denominations, in my opinion, ignores our Christian mandate to exist as a united body of Christ.

It is my hope and prayer that as the various factions within the UMC engage in difficult conversations over the future of our denomination, we form no new denominations. A plethora of denominations already exist that could fill the void should the UMC no longer exist. Conservative/evangelical Methodists (I find myself in this “camp” most often) have much in common with the Wesleyan Church and the Anglican Church in Northern America, for example. Those on the progressive side have a lot in common with plenty of existing mainline denominations, such as the Episcopal Church, ELCA, UCC, and PCUSA.

I would also hope that non-Caucasian and multi-ethnic congregations could join such church bodies. However, if that didn’t work out, there are existing options for those congregations. For example, AME & AME-Zion could offer a home for African American congregations. I’ve also heard colleagues mention the possibility of Spanish-speaking churches linking up with the Mexican Methodist Church. Regardless of how such a scenario would specifically shake out, seeking connections with existing denominations would provide a powerful witness to the Spirit’s ability to draw us together as Christians. Such unity would at least partially mitigate against the inevitable damage that a dissolution of the UMC would create.

I hope none of these contingencies are necessary. It is my hope and prayer that the United Methodist Church stays whole. I hope Methodists can find a way to evangelize and minister to the world for the cause of Jesus Christ as one body. However, regardless of what the future holds for United Methodists, Christ calls us to seek unity with the entire church. The formation of any new denominations, in my humble opinion, would not serve that end.

ADDENDUM: I appreciate the feedback that a reader offered on social media that I did not address the reality of the UMC’s global nature in this post. This is absolutely true, and I’m grateful for that feedback. It should be noted that both the Wesleyan Church and the ACNA are global, or at least closely connected to a global church body. But in discussing the possibility of schism, we should ponder the response of the non-American church to this possibility.

The Hope That Lies Within You

I want to challenge you to share.

I realize that opening the door to a subject matter like this can open a can of worms. It can also create quiet. Maybe no one will share at all. In this crazy internet world of blogging, debating, criticizing, and arguing, I cannot help but think that there is still hope to bring people to a common ground. A middle, if you will, between our opposing views. The middle ground, I believe, is found in Jesus Christ. We tend to argue and defend our views from behind theological viewpoints and denominational standards. I believe if we continue to do that we will find ourselves completely broken. We talk about “holy conversation”. Could there be anything more holy than to discuss what Jesus has done for you?

1 Peter 3:15       New International Version (NIV)

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

This year I celebrate 14 years of marriage to the mother of my children.

I remember clearly the night we first met. We had talked on the phone or internet for a week. I asked if she wanted to meet me. She said yes. I drove 2 1/2 hours to get there. (The journey is a story all for itself.) I showed up late. She graciously sat down for a sandwich with me on a park bench near her university’s pond. She was and her family were life long United Methodists. We made small talk as we began to size each other up. Then, out of nowhere, I simply popped the question. You know…I need to know.

“So, what do you think about Jesus?”

Mid bite into a turkey sandwich I had brought for her, she looked at me with those “Really?” eyes, swallowed and cleared her throat. I had caught her completely off guard “Well, that’s a pretty deep subject.” It is. I knew that it was. But, I really wanted to know. It was imperative to me. What I really sought to start was discussion. What too many of us want when we ask questions about God or Jesus is some definitive answer that we can hold up and say, “Here it is!” We might get to that, but only if we take the time to discuss first. We need to talk. We need to spend time with one another. In the case of my wife and I, as is the case with many a couple, opposites tend to attract. I’m one who jumps in neck deep. Whether it’s theological discussion or a evangelical trip, I’m there. She tends to be more reserved. She takes her time with things and thinks about for awhile. Drives me absolutely nuts. I feel like much of our diversity in the church happens along these same lines. The church is not made up of people who all think alike. All people do not learn the same. All people do not have the same experiences or life lessons to pull from. It is only when we take the time to tell our stories and talk about what Jesus has done for us that we begin to find our “middle ground”. Out here on the internet and in these blogs, we spend way too much time arguing about doctrine and grovelling about where orthodoxy begins. Orthodoxy begins with Jesus. What we understand about God begins with Jesus. I already realize that won’t clear much up for some. But, I am of firm belief that the person of Jesus Christ can help clear up our muddied waters. In our denomination. In our hearts. In our churches. We simply need to focus what we are doing upon him and not some outside cause. Whether that we are focused on some social cause or political. We human being tend to get our priorities out order. Here’s where we start getting it right. “Tell me the stories of Jesus”

SO, my challenge to you is this…

Tell me what you believe about Jesus. I’m willing to bet that if this post was about some political issue or some social cause, there would be debate or arguing instantly. I’ve seen it happen. Maybe no one will respond at all here. Either because you don’t have a story to share or you’ve never taken the time to think out what you believe about Jesus. Talk to me about what Jesus has done in your life. Toss out your bullet list of theological points you hold dear or think the church should hold dear and just talk to me. Who is Jesus to you? I want to know. Give me an account of the hope that lies within you. Why do you believe in Jesus? Why is that so important to you? What has Jesus done for you? Tell me your story of Jesus and why that gives you hope.

“crickets chirping”

Melito of Sardis: The Old Testament and the New Testament

I am reposting Melito for Easter.

I have posted on Melito some before, and find myself returning to him for a bit especially his homily on the Passover. He provides us with an accurate manner in using the Old Testament, and it is an example that is well served for the past few millenia. He does not create something that is not there, no drench the Prophets with our Hope, but stands in the good Tradition of using the New Testament to read the Old. For a New Testament example of this, we need to turn no further, dig no deeper than the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Note, if you will, the powerful images that Melito presents us with.

Continue reading “Melito of Sardis: The Old Testament and the New Testament”