Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ - 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time [Proper 26]

Nahum 1:9-15 OR Ezekiel 20:32-49
Psalm 31: (105) 6-14 (15-16) 17-24 OR 40: (1-11) 12-17
Luke 23:26-32
Romans 15:1-3, 14-33


Love the LORD, all you his saints.
         The LORD preserves the faithful,
         but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
Let the lying lips be stilled that speak insolently
against the righteous with pride and contempt.
         O how abundant is your goodness, O LORD,
that you have laid up for those who fear you,
         and accomplished for those who take refuge in you,
         in the sight of everyone!
Those who have never been told of him shall see,
and those who have never heard of him shall understand.
For on my holy mountain, says the LORD God,
there I will accept them, and you shall know that I am the LORD.

O God our Father, who sent Jesus Christ into the world, not in order to please himself, but to graciously bear the insults that you and your saints have endured, to put up with the failings of the weak, to bless the barren, and to reveal your good purpose of building up those whom the enemy seeks to tear down: Come and refresh your weary people, refresh us with rest in your company, refresh us with the joy and the love of the Spirit. Rescue from unbelief and inspire us to earnest prayer, that our service to you may be acceptable in your sight and give none of your saints cause for stumbling. For by your grace we have come to share in the spiritual blessings, and we would glorify your name by uniting with your holy ones in the love of Christ and in the fullness of his blessing. Come, Lord Jesus, and refresh us in the power of your Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Our Father Knows (now on Kindle)

The Kindle edition of Our Father Knows: The Prayer that Jesus Taught is now available.

Our Father Knows: The Prayer That Jesus Taught

UPDATE (10-29-2016): Reissued today in print with several corrections.

ORIGINAL POST (03-16-2016): In the aftermath of Super Tumult, er, Tuesday, and before St. Patrick's Day sees everyone, shall we say, forgetting what St. Patrick stood for (well, hopefully not everyone), it seems like "3/16" may be a good day to publish a book, and not just any book, but a book on The Lord's Prayer. I suspect we need it — by which I mean "the Prayer" more than the book, but the book, too.

So, for those who share my conviction that we need to earnestly beseech our heavenly Father right about now — and indeed every day — let me introduce Our Father Knows: The Prayer that Jesus Taught. This short series of studies is the artifact of an adult Sunday School course I offered in early 2003. After my comprehensive exams and the submission of my dissertation proposal I had about a month before I could expect feedback on the proposal; given the chance to offer some adult ed, I thought I would try and tackle one of the chief catechetical "heads." Only once I got into it did I discover what a mammoth amount of literature there is on "the Prayer" — yes, the definite article is merited — so I pretty much stuck with first things first, namely, reading the petitions within the reverberations of the canon itself. The Foreword lists what are (to my mind) the chief secondary sources that a thorough study should take into account, if it were to venture beyond biblical study itself and into the history of Christian thought, interpretation, and preaching on the Lord's Prayer. It is quite possible I may have missed something important, especially since the recommended list of titles "For Further Reading" is admittedly light on commentaries. Including whole book commentaries would have added a level of research I did not and do not have the time to undertake, so let me refer any interested parties to the Biblical Studies department for that. All of which is to say, this was and is a quick study, prepared intensively but on the fly, without significant revision to what was first offered, despite the baker's dozen years that have since lapsed.

Perhaps you might consider using this for a Sunday school class or other adult ed event, or find in it inspiration for a sermon series on the Lord's Prayer. Sooner or later, and perhaps especially at this juncture, we need to remember the importance of catechesis, including catechetical preaching, do we not? [Where Year D is concerned, I have suggested Matthew 6:7-15 as the gospel lection for the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, but I do think the petitions are well worth at least one sermon each.]

Meanwhile, for an added bonus, see the final pages where, in "An Eschatological Postscript," you will find a prayer composed of (relatively neglected) petitions, other things for and about which Jesus also said we should pray. Can you imagine what the good Lord might do if we were to actually start praying for such things?

May your faith be strengthened by this study and may those with whom you serve the Lord be well nourished by it as well. Blessings and peace in Christ to one and all.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ - 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Proper 25]

Nahum 1:1-8
Psalm 33: (1-12) 13-22
Matthew 27:3-31a OR Mark 15:2-20a OR Luke 23:2-25 OR John 18:29-19:16
Romans 10:1-4, 16-21; 11:2-28 (29-32) 33-36


Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ - 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Proper 24]

Haggai 2:20-23 OR Dan 7: (1-3) 4-14 (15-18) 19-28
Psalm 38 OR 55
Matthew 26:57-27:1-2 OR Mark 14:53-15:1 OR Luke 22:54-23:1 OR John 18:13-28
Romans 9:6-33


The word of the LORD has come, saying:
“I am about to shake the heavens and the earth;”
As I watched, the Ancient of Days took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow, and fire flowed out from his presence.
“I am about to overthrow the throne of kingdoms
to destroy the strength of the nations.”
         The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened; and
         I saw one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven.
“On that day, I will take you, my servant, and make you like a signet ring;
for I have chosen you, says the LORD of hosts.”
And he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
To him was given glory and everlasting dominion, that all should
serve him, and a kingdom that shall never pass away.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

RCL coverage

I recently had this question from, and an interesting conversation with, a friendly inquirer into lectionary design, a Princeton Seminary graduate who has been through the RCL some 10 times, and who now works in Protestant campus ministry in NY.

"If people only hear/read the Bible during Sunday worship, and attend churches where the RCL is used, how much of the Bible will they never hear? And how much of the gospels will they never hear?"

At least that is the simplified version of the question that the Rev. Dr. Laurie Tiberi sent my way. In its original form, her question drew a fairly stark contrast between the Daily Lectionary and the "Sunday only" RCL. Here is my response, some of which will be familiar to those who have read Year D.

Hi, Laurie:
Thanks for the question. 
Before I respond, I should say that when "Sunday only" is distinguished from the Daily Lectionary, there are some dozen events or so that are independent of the DL, but tend to fall on weekdays (fixed feasts, fasts, and other weekday events), like Christmas Day, Epiphany, Ash Wed, MTW of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday (Vigil), Ascension, Thanksgiving. 
My hunch is the question was put to set the DL apart from RCL, which consists of some 70-72 events total. Some 60 of these are what we might call "Sunday only," combinations of texts that would fall on a Sunday, but obviously not every year. While there are only 52 weeks a year, [the Ordinary Time after] Epiphany, e.g., rarely gets all the Sundays assigned to it, since that only happens when Easter comes really late. 
With all that said, I will admit the "Sunday only" question in the purest sense [RCL minus the fixed/weekday feasts] has been of concern to me, since many Protestant churches (I see you are laboring specifically in Protestant ministry) have not always done much historically with weekday services, even with Good Friday and Maundy Thursday. So I have often wondered, what will "Sunday only" attendees hear, and what will they miss, if they only hear the Bible in Church and never crack their own copies at home? 
I have not crunched the numbers myself very precisely on the Bible as a whole (66 books of the Reformed/Protestant canon), but I believe David Ackerman's estimate of 24.9% coverage by the RCL is about right (see his book, Beyond the Lectionary). That figure, as I understand it, would include Sundays, plus those dozen or so high holy days. So, slightly less than a quarter of the Bible is covered by RCL. 
Another figure that might be of interest: Dennis Olsen, Prof of OT at Princeton Seminary, has calculated that less that 20% of the OT is represented in the RCL. 
As for the Psalms, my Presbyterian BOCW prints just the "semi-continuous" track through the RCL (as opposed to the complementary track that uses typological associations, allusions, and quotations to pair OT and NT readings). That semi-c track leaves 50 psalms completely untouched, to say nothing of omissions of verses from others psalms that it only reads partially (e.g., 78, 119, etc.) The RCL (semi-c + complimentary tracks, taken together) leaves more like 40 Psalms untouched. So between 26% and 33% of the Psalms are completely untouched by RCL. Again, the factor is higher if you count omitted verses from psalms that are used. 
But you asked about the Gospels. When you asked specifically about Sunday only, I calculated that literally (and did not include the dozen feast/fast days), and came up with this: vv. used on Sundays / total vv. in Gospel = % used on Sundays ... 
Matthew: 631 / 1071 = 58.92% 
Mark: 461 / 678 = 67.99% 
Luke: 690 / 1151 = 59.95% 
John: 490 / 879 = 55.75%
Total: 2272 / 3779 = 60.12% 
Now, two considerations need to be taken into account, one that would suggest significantly higher coverage and another significantly lower: 
Higher: Bear in mind that the synoptic gospels often duplicate, even "triplicate" some material. I think the designers of RCL assumed that if we hear a parable in Matt 13, we do not necessarily need to cover it again in Mark 4, and any significant differences can be dealt with in a sermon. So, e.g., it may be Year A, but I think bringing in Mark's and Luke's take on the same text is fair game, esp. if their versions are not in RCL. That may not be of much help if we are interested in the overall structure of the particular gospel in question, but I think it is safe to say that the sayings of Jesus get better than 60% coverage. One exception that seems important to me is his saying about the narrow gate. Neither Matthew's nor Luke's version is ever touched. John's version of "I am the gate for the sheep" is used in RCL, but there is no mention of narrowness or the life or death ultimatum, so that seems to me a very different text. [UPDATED: Hence the two sermons on these texts in Chapter 4 of Groans of the Spirit.] The synoptic issue is also the reason I have tried to give John better coverage in Year D, since his material tends to be quite unique and does not have the benefit of synoptic redundancy. 
Lower: If we really do stick with "Sunday only" (thus, setting aside the long Good Friday readings of the Passion Narratives), and if we assume (as is the case in most churches) that we opt for Palm Sunday, not the Passion Sunday read-through of the PNs, then nearly two whole chapters of the Gospels (Matt 26–27; Mark 14–15; Luke 22–23; John 18–19) are not in fact covered on Sundays at all (except for a few selected verses here and there). Those tend to be very long chapters. My calculations are a bit roughshod here, but that would drop the coverage factor by as much as 10%. So, arguably, the Gospels are only about half-covered (50%) when one drops out all the passion material that is unlikely to be read. Moreover, if it is read all in one clip (Passion Sunday), that leaves little time for preaching. This latter consideration I find particularly ironic in light of Martin Kahler's oft-cited description of the Gospels as "Passion Narratives with extended introductions." Such a definition, though hyperbolic perhaps, suggests the Gospel lections in RCL, in a sense, consist almost entirely of introductory material. 
Again, thanks for the question. I hope you find this helpful. 
Peace in Christ, 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ - 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Proper 23]

Haggai 2:10-19
Psalms 3 AND 134
Matthew 26:36-56 OR Mark 14:32-52 OR Luke 22:39-53 OR John 18:1-12
Romans 7:1-12


Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
who stand in the house of the LORD!
         You, O LORD, are a shield around me,
         my glory, and the one who lifts up my head!
Lift up your hands to the holy place,
and bless the LORD.
         I cry aloud to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy hill.          
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.
Be not afraid if ten thousands of people set themselves against you all around.
May the LORD, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion!
Rise up, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God!
         For deliverance belongs to the LORD!
May your blessing be on your people!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Christian education and liturgical resources

Advent is coming, and with it a new liturgical year, and for RCL users, a new cycle. If you plan to use Year A at all, you may want to have this on hand:

After a long year and an ugly election season, you may also be ready for something lighter this Advent and Christmas. Written to "delight," this story is probably most suited to a family night or fellowship gathering, but perhaps it has been adapted for pageants; you might also think of it as an extended Christmas card for a congregation, a thank you gift for key families, a welcome gift for visitors, etc. However you use it, know that it will remind people of the Christ of Christmas.

Where worship is concerned, if you haven't looked into Year D yet, it is not too soon to plan ahead:


Meanwhile, if you still have any adult ed courses to plan, imagine 6 or 7 weeks in the study of the Lord's Prayer ...

and 6 to 9 weeks rediscovering an important, but forgotten Reformer.

The seventeen chapters in this piece are very short and could easily be read two or three at a clip. For many an adult ed class or book group, you could well spend a whole semester on these two studies alone.

These are just a few — hopefully helpful — pieces developed over the years in small church ministry, and one (the translation) that has arisen from the nagging sense that we still have a lot to learn about our identity and mission as Christians in the Reformed tradition from the actual Reformers (there are more than just Luther and Calvin) who got the ball rolling. In short and paradoxically, clues to the way forward always seem to demand attending to the past, if we are patient and teachable enough to search out the great treasures of the tradition. Obviously, that applies to scripture above all, especially to those basic, but neglected essentials like the Lord's Prayer.

Spread the Word!