Geekin’

Every Sunday during Christian worship services, a stunning number of congregations read the same selections from the Bible.  In my denominational circles, it’s fairly typical to find three readings from Scripture each Sunday morning – one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament (non-Gospel), and one from a Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).  

I’ve heard these passages read for years.  They cover a broad cross section of the Bible while supporting the liturgical church calendar.  But I haven’t known much about why these readings have been selected, and ultimately what their selectors hoped they would do.  Most of my effort each week in terms of sermon preparation is on seeking to understand these readings both singularly and more importantly, in relationship to one another.  My assumption has always been that these three particular readings were put together for a purpose.  However, nobody has ever adequately explained what that purpose might be (and no, Seminary didn’t cover this either).  
With many thanks to Rev. Dr. David Schmitt from Concordia Seminary St. Louis, I’m now reading up on the lectionary.  It’s kinda geeky reading, but my assumption is that if I better understand the formation of the lectionary and the rationale behind it’s order, it will make my responsibility as preacher both easier and more faithful.  
The book I’m currently working through is Normand Bonneau’s The Sunday Lectionary: Ritual Word, Paschal Shape.  It’s thus far a very accessible and informative book that in roughly the first half of the book provides a historic overview for lectionary systems in general, going back to the Jewish traditions likely in place prior to Jesus’ birth up through Vatican II in the 1960’s.  If you have an interest not only in what you hear on Sunday mornings but why, this book might tickle your fancy.  Otherwise, I’m sure it will be an excellent sleep aid.  
Next I’ll be starting Scripture and Memory by Fritz West.  I’ll let you know how that goes.  
All this being said, it’s important to note that the lectionary is not a requirement of the Christian church.  I know pastors who deal with parishioners that get bent out of shape when the pastor deviates from the lectionary, or opts not to use it at all.  Although the three-year (or one-year) lectionary enjoys a lot of history among Christians in one form or another, no where has it’s use been mandated.  I personally find it useful for exposing parishioners to a broad swath of Scripture while simultaneously (hopefully) preventing me from cherry-picking texts that I find personally appealing or compelling.  It helps me to preach the whole counsel of God rather than pet themes.  But it’s just a tool, one of many ways of allowing Scripture to permeate us on a regular basis.  

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