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03/25/2011

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Mike Poteet

This is a great topic! But I'd better lead off with thanks to you for serving on the Consultation. I'm sure it's a tough job, and you can never please all of God's people all of the time...!

I am not in a weekly preaching position right now, but I did use the RCL more-or-less faithfully for seven years. I sometimes hopped off for the summers to do special series, either books that don't get much RCL spotlight (e.g., the whole summer of 2002 we spent in Revelation) or doctrinal topics (e.g., a series on the Lord's Prayer, phrase by phrase). I tended to use only two of the readings (although I took the psalm into account for such things as Call to Worship or for hymn-choosing guidance), simply because there is not enough time in a "standard" hour-long service to deal respectfully with more than two texts in a sermon (in my opinion -- others will disagree, I'm sure). And, usually, one of those texts was "subordinated" to the other in my sermon -- though not always the Old Testament to the New.

I think the RCL holds us accountable by taking us through most (but not all) of the Bible every three years, but it does have a tendencey to "snip" difficult pericopes and ignore others altogether, thereby undercutting some of its own stated purpose of "holding our feet to the fire" with the hard texts.

I would somehow make it a four-year cycle that spends one year with John as we do with the Synoptics. Obviously, some of the liturgical year leaves little choice about text (who is *not* going to read Luke 2 at Christmas Eve/Day, for example?), but I think a John year (or maybe a John-Acts year, since Acts gets short shrift except in Eastertide) might help us deal more faithfully with the Fourth Gospel. It requires a lot of work to understand it just on the surface, let alone anything deeper; but if we only engage with it during and near Lent, we're not getting enough practice.

David Gambrell

Thanks, Mike. Good comments. Have you encountered the Year D project from Tim Slemmons at Dubuque? See http://theyeardproject.blogspot.com/. I'd be curious to see what you think of his proposal.

The use of John and Acts in the RCL has a certain logic that makes sense to me (although I certainly appreciate and am interested in hearing arguments to the contrary).

John, which is a very different kind of book than the synoptics, obviously, has a privileged place at the major festivals (Christmas Proper 3, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Pentecost), along with other readings throughout the year. And if you look at the percentages of material used from the four gospels in the RCL (as I did recently), surprisingly John "wins" with 71% (Matthew gets 61%, Mark 66%, and Luke 60%).

And it makes sense to me to focus on Acts during the seven Sundays of Easter, as Acts shows us the life of the church in the wake of Christ's resurrection.

Still, I appreciate what you say about needing more work and practice for a deeper engagement with John, the kind of concentrated time and attention that would come from a more sustained, lectio continua pattern of reading.

Dr. James C. Goodloe IV

Dear David:

Thank you for this. The Reformers threw out the lectionary because it chopped up the Scriptures into tiny little pieces, and they threw out the seasons of the liturgical year to which the lectionary adhered because the assumptions of the seasons stood counter to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I would urge you to stand with the Reformers and to set aside, again, these medieval innovations. Lead the church in taking up, again, preaching through the books of the Bible chapter by chapter and verse by verse. See:

http://www.foundationrt.org/writings/righteous%20judgment.pdf

http://www.foundationrt.org/writings/lectio.pdf

http://www.foundationrt.org/writings/DubaLectionary.pdf

Thank you!

Dr. Rebecca Prichard

We read all four texts each week and preach on one or more of them as well, We move through the seasons of the church calendar with colors and festivals and traditions. We celebrate the Lord's Supper twice a month.

Because the Scriptures are a deep well, bottomless, pure, always new, it is freeing to know that i will get another chance to preach on a passage, that I don't have to try to say everything or preach every sermon that is there. Ridiculous. Because there is a unity to scripture, I look for common threads in the Sunday texts and there is almost always something that draws me into them more deeply.

Using the lectionary texts and following the seasons of the church year also helps with planning and unifying the service. The music and the prayers can be brought together around these texts so that even if the sermon chooses one over another, the others are also heard and illumined somehow.

It is a freeing discipline to preach the lectionary because it forces the preacher to wrestle with texts that might not otherwise be chosen. And the preacher doesn't have to spend a lot of time figuring out which texts to read and/or preach on any given Sunday.

Moving through the calendar gives a rhythm to our life together as a worshiping community. it is a countercultural calendar, so we celebrate Advent rather than the runup to Christmas; Lent rather than sprintime; Pentecost and Trinity rather than Mother's or Father's Day. We can downplay the patirotic days if we wish in favor of the church's seasons. The changing colors and moods become a part of our life cycles.

The minor drawbacks are that there are some passages of Scripture that may never be heard or studied. And the reformers did prefer that lectio continuo. But we are Presbyterians after all and free to choose departures at times from the RCL.

We interpret the seasons and festivals of the year in a Reformed way, even Lent and Ash Wednesday. We have moved beyond "countering" all things catholic, instead reforming and renewing and rediscovering some ancient traditions. The grace of God in Jesus Christ is still at the center of it all.

Dr. James C. Goodloe IV

Dear Dr. Prichard:

Thank you for your post. The quotation marks you placed around "countering" suggest a reference to my post, though I did not mention the Catholic Church. Advent and Lent are penitential seasons during which worshippers seek to be good enough to earn the grace anticipated at Christmas and Easter. But that, of course, is a rejection of grace, and as such cannot be reinterpreted in a Reformed way. Let's go back to the ancient Catholic Church and reclaim the weekly calendar of which the Lord's Day was the primary emphasis.

David Gambrell

Drs. Goodloe and Prichard, I appreciate you sharing these resources and perspectives.

These contributions will be valubale as I seek to interpret the context of the PC(USA) to the Consultation on Common Texts, and as the Office of Theology and Worship develops resources for the church to promote faithful worship and the study of Scripture.

Mike Poteet

"if you look at the percentages of material used from the four gospels in the RCL ... surprisingly John 'wins'" -- Huh! I would not have guessed. Is this counting each pericope's appearance only once, or is it due to the fact that some passages from John (as well as some from the others) show up in all three years?

I did not know about the Year D project but I will certainly check it out -- sounds interesting. I also liked the Easum-Bandy proposal of "The Uncommon Lectionary," which stressed taking advantage of natural linkages to the "secular" calendar and using mostly the "must read," essential (in their judgment, of course) Bible passages. I would not want to adopt such an approach wholesale, but I thought their criticisms of the RCL, motivated by a passion for evangelism, had some merit.

David Gambrell

I used the Scripture-to-Lectionary index at the Vanderbilt site (http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/citationindex.php) to find out which verses of each of the four gospels were not included. Then using Accordance Bible Software(http://www.accordancebible.com/) and a calculator, I divided the number of verses omitted by the total number of verses in each gospel. That yielded the negative stats (percent missing; John was lowest), which I then translated into positive numbers (percent included; John was highest).

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