What’s with the lectionary in Lent?

What is going on with the lectionary during Lent?

This Sunday and the next couple, the gospel text is nearly 40 verses long or longer. I realize these are extended stories, but really? It is not the reading time that bothers me, so much, but the challenge of coming to a clear focus for a sermon when the congregation has just been given 40 verses. No matter what I preach, there are going to be scads of questions or loose ends. And if I try to tie those up, the sermon will be a mess.

I realize this is the challenge every week we preach. No sermon ever says everything that could be said or even needs to be said.

But, still. Ouch. Three weeks in a row. Ouch.

A dispatch from the desert

I have had an odd experience these last couple of weeks of lectionary blogging. It has weakened my sense of nourishment from Scripture. This has never happened with my blogging before, but at this time, right now, I am finding that blogging the lectionary readings has turned my study and reading into a means to an end.

And that has left me with a sense of dryness.

At the same time, thoughts and ideas crowd in about other topics to write about. I have even started writing posts that would violate my Lenten discipline, only to delete them before finishing.

It may be that I am just experiencing the trials and temptations of any fast. It may be something deeper is going on here.

At any rate, this is a report from the midst of Lent. May God sustain you in your observance.

Reading Isaiah 55:1-9, part 2

A reading for the third Sunday in Lent: Isaiah 55:1-9

Isaiah 55:6-7 has to be one of the key texts for evangelical preaching.

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

John Wesley’s journals and sermons echo with that phrase “Seek the Lord while he may be found.” Justification, he preached and taught, is the pardon of God. This was a go-to text for Wesley.

Here is what I have found in preaching, though. Most of the people who come to hear preaching do not experience themselves as lost. They do not have a sense of God’s distance. They do not feel themselves to be in need of mercy. They frequently have needs and wants to place before God, but are not anxious about God’s pardon.

Is this where reading the gospel reading (Luke 13:1-9) offers a map? There is a post for tomorrow.

Reading Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

A reading for Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God. The day of the LORD is a day of darkness and doom. He comes leading his army, which in the skipped over verses from the reading is a devouring fire that destroys everything in its path.

Here is why so many Marcionites don’t like the Old Testament. But here he is. Behold your God.

In the later verses, I love this phrase in the NRSV: Rend your hearts and not your clothing. It is such a powerful, poetic phrase reminding us that religion is not about outward show or ritual, but about the human heart. God does not lay a bunch of duties on us that we can grudgingly perform, like the chores our mother’s used to make us do around the house.

He wants our hearts.

Weep and mourn over the way we have rejected God. Gather together and offer prayers to God: Do not forget us, LORD. Do not destroy us. Do let the world point and ask, “Where is the God they said would rescue them?”

A church in my town ran a column in the religion section of the newspaper. It said it was observing Lent by going on a carbon fast. As far as I could discern, this meant it would encourage people to reduce energy use and it would have worship service with no paper bulletins or worship materials.

Somehow, against the thundering voice of the prophet, this just does not seem like a robust response to the summons to “rend your hearts.”

Last Sunday, I used the typical mainline Protestant language with people to stop some activity or forgo some luxury to make room for God during Lent. Today, that seems rather tepid in the face of Joel’s words.

Rend your hearts. These words I will carry around with me today.

Lenten blogging plans

For the last few years, I’ve stop blogging during Lent.

This year, my intention is to keep blogging, but picking up on something Morgan Guyton posted in a comment, I’m going to blog only about readings from the Revised Common Lectionary from Ash Wednesday through Easter.

No United Methodist politics or interesting videos from Calvinists.

I invite other United Methodist bloggers to reflect on their blogging plans and priorities during the upcoming season of Lent.

Lenten Blog Tour: Acts 10:34-43

The Common English Bible has organized a Lenten Blog Tour. I was honored to be invited to take part.

Acts 10:34-43

Peter said, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him. This is the message of peace he sent to the Israelites by proclaiming the good news through Jesus Christ: He is Lord of all! You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism John preached. You know about Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and endowed with power. Jesus traveled around doing good and healing everyone oppressed by the devil because God was with him. We are witnesses of everything he did, both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 4but God raised him up on the third day and allowed him to be seen, not by everyone but by us. We are witnesses whom God chose beforehand, who ate and drank with him after God raised him from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

This is one of my favorite passages in the New Testament, so I was pleased when it was assigned as my text for this Lenten Blog Tour. To me, it is one of the best capsule summaries of the good news. Peter brings to these outsiders, these non-Jews, the full story of God’s actions to redeem the world through Jesus the Messiah.

We hear this story during Lent as we move toward its dramatic climax. We are reminded as we hear Peter’s words that it is not just a story for us or our tribe. It is not meant to be a story told to reassure a club of insiders who huddle together for mutual support.

It is the declaration that God is God of all. It is the announcement that Jesus came for all of us. It is the promise that all are invited into the life of God.

In the ministry of Jesus, there were times of when he withdrew. He pulled back from the villages to escape the crowds or went off into the darkness to pray alone. Each time, though, he returned to the throng and the crowd and the press of life. He returned to preach and teach and heal.

This season of Lent is in part about withdrawing. It is a time to reflect and take stock. It is a time for silence and ashes and darkness. Such things are necessary for us. But they are not final.

Like Peter we are called to be bearers of a message. We are called to proclaim to those who have not heard the upending and unexpected news that God does not play favorites. God does not care only about the beautiful and the well-connected and the wealthy. God is not the pet of some private club. God came for all. God bled for us all. God has room for all.

Thanks be to God.