Grace and peace to you!
If you open the Beacon newsletter, you notice that the readings from the lectionary for each Sunday are always shared.
What’s a lectionary? It’s a three year cycle of readings that uses a specific gospel each year as its “base,” this year it is Matthew, and the gospel of John is used every year on a variety of Sundays. The lectionary is a standard that most American churches use—so your friends who are Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and even Catholic are likely hearing the same verses read, and hearing a homily based on the same gospel, too.
I have mixed feelings about the lectionary. Mostly, I like it—the rhythm, the repetition, the knowing of what’s ahead. I like the consistency, especially today, when so much is unknown regarding our lives during the pandemic-era. Having the same gospels and Old Testament readings is comforting to me. I heard them three years ago, and God willing I will hear them again in 2023.
But then, I am faced with a hard text, like this Sunday…
And I remember why I don’t like the lectionary. It forces the congregation and pastor to read and reflect on harder texts in our gospels. To grapple with ideas and issues that we would rather gloss over to get the loving Jesus. You know the one: the Jesus who blesses children, forgives, heals and helps the poor. We like that Jesus very much. But the Jesus who challenges us and says harsh words–not so much.
This week, Jesus says some strong words. I promise, I won’t pretend he doesn’t say them, or preach on something else. Just like with everyone you know personally; you have to take the whole person. You can’t like only some things of a person and ignore the other things you dislike. It may work like that for a while, but it doesn’t last. You have to accept the whole person to truly have a relationship with the person. And it’s the same with Jesus.
So, what does Jesus say? In Matthew 10, he tells his disciples, 34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Really pleasant, right? I promise this Sunday to unpack this, and perhaps challenge us to examine what Jesus means. But for now, it may be just enough for you to grapple with your image of Jesus.
How do you perceive him? How does he even look to you? What does this reveal about you when you unpack your perceptions of him? Can you follow the loving Jesus as well as the Jesus who says some harsh words, and was angry in the temple, angry enough to overturn tables and shout? And if you had to describe Jesus to people who have no idea who he is, would you use only your perceptions, or could you fall back on scripture and give a “picture” of him that way?
The lectionary forces these conversations. It forces us to read some harder texts and look at the log in our eye while telling those around us about the small splinters they have in their eyes. It forces us to move beyond Jesus as a Shepherd to a Jesus who was radical and said some pretty harsh words.
Today, I am ok with this tension. I may not be tomorrow. I may struggle with the words of Jesus and really get upset that everything isn’t rosy and wonderful. I may dislike the lectionary more than like it. I may even turn off my computer in a huff, and get frustrated.
Truth be told, I think Jesus would be pleased with that. Being challenged promotes growth. How will you grow in your faith this weekend?
Blessings and peace to you, your loved ones, and yes to those who irritate you. Just as God loves the whole person that we re, we are called to love the whole person of others, too. Bless you in your struggle. Bless you in this tension. Bless you when you get frustrated. Bless you however you are.
See you on Sunday,