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.
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.
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.
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.
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.