When the pastors heard it was Lectionary Year B, they made lamentation for it. When the brief Easter passed and the fires of Pentecost cooled, the monolithic mesa of ordinary time loomed. It bore the burden of John 6.
Some rejoiced and some mourned. Some had a plan and some gnashed their teeth weekly. Yet the Lord sent a prophet to the persons of the Revised Common Lectionary. The prophet announced to those responsible, “There once was a book unlike any other. Full of life and richness, tales of woe and joy, this book told the story of God through history, poetry, narrative, and dreams. With metaphor, song, and plain language, realities of creation are made manifest within its pages. Yet, there were forces that constricted the stories. These forces grasped at a theme and sat on it, barely let the Spirit play amongst the words that are good for teaching and bringing freedom. These forces bend and twist the Hebrew scriptures to match words from the gospel accounts without accounting for the depth and breadth of God’s-light-witness in both.”
The lectionary elves gasped at this hearing, clutching pearls and pearl tie clips, “Who would do such a thing?”
The pastors, their calendars full of bread-themed ideas, songs, and sermon starts, pointed, “You have done this! And, thus, people do not know the arc of the gospel according to Mark. And, thus, people do not comprehend the fullness of the gospel according to John. And, thus, do dreams of bread pudding dance through our heads!”
Okay, maybe just I feel that way. It’s only just the second week of the Bread of Life discourse. If you’ve been following the semi-continuous Hebrew Scripture readings, this week is Nathan’s confrontation with David. I gave myself a little giggle imagining a horde of pastors, eyes flashing indignantly, pointing at the compilers of the RCL and screaming, “Thou are the [men and women]!”
The reading from Exodus this week offers its own richness, not as a mere foreshadowing to the gospel text. Provision in the wilderness is a reality that still has resonance in our time. Given the very real trials and traumas of immigration in Africa (to Europe) and within the Americas at this time, what does being fed in the desert look like? Are we called to be carriers of manna (God’s providence) to those who seek freedom, hope, and healing? Even as we preach abundance again and again, many churches still operate- monetarily and spiritually- from a sense of scarcity. We also have our laments of the days gone by. Perhaps a sermon could call a congregation to account for the hope that is present within them. What is true now? What is the manna and the quail surrounding the congregation- provided by grace- that can and will sustain them?
As for 2 Samuel, I’m all for David getting called out. I’m in the front row, with popcorn, hollering, “PREACH” to Nathan. Then I’m sucking my teeth at the predictions that follow. Why do others have to suffer because of David’s sin? The later writers needed to make sense of the division, death, and disruption that came to David’s house. How could he be the king that foreshadows the Messiah with such corruption in the house? Attributing all the subsequent pain to David’s choices in this one situation is a difficult leap to make, yet it stands. Repentance does not remove the consequences of the sin. Repentance doesn’t stop the sin from affecting other people. How is God’s grief at sin portrayed in this story? The reality of costly grace (Bonhoeffer) is that it costs God to provide it. What is the cost to God in this text? Do we see it?
If I were preaching on Ephesians, I would concentrate on the phrase “speaking the truth in love”. What does that phrase mean? What does it look like when it is done? How does the true speaking of truth in love lend itself to cohesiveness in the body? I might look the local or national issues of my community or denomination. Often this phrase is thrown around as a way to bully others OR to it is reacted to very sharply, as though it meant to bully. However, this is the call of the life of faith- to acknowledge that there is a truth that comes in being on the Way of Christ. We cannot ignore that truth. We cannot make that yoke light by our own niceness or refusal to confront pain. We are called, through the power of love, to speak the truth about oneness and union and unity in the Lord.
I don’t know about where you’ll be preaching, but the great leap for the words I will say on Sunday is helping people to 1) learn to recognize spiritual hunger, 2) realize that there are real and tangible solutions to physical hunger, 3) learn how we miss the expansiveness of what God offers in Christ by “just” asking for one thing, and 4) how are we called to be inviters and sharers of the bread of life.
What do you anticipate lifting up this week? Please share your thoughts, tips, tricks, children’s sermons, bread recipes, leftover manna casseroles, love of John 6, lament over leaving Mark, or whatever else seems pertinent (loose term), helpful, and for the good of the order!