Thursday, June 2, 2011

Unity in Silos

I've been slowly introducing the idea of the Narrative Lectionary (NL) to my congregation. The NL is a fairly quickly paced romp through the arc of Scripture from Abraham and Sarah to Acts (September to late May). Each Sunday, the congregation focuses on one scripture passage that reveals the work God has done. Through the lens of that story, in its Scriptural setting, we move to more fully comprehend the work God is doing now.

In order to use the NL, we will have to drop out of formal use of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for about nine months. It is my hope that during this time our congregation will labor together and come to a better understanding of the narrative thread of what we believe. How are the Hebrew Scriptures connected to our understanding of Jesus? How do we see ourselves as children of Abraham? What are the lessons of the Exile?

These are important themes and stories that don't quite make into the heart of the RCL. Arguably, they could be covered through Faith Formation activities, like Christian Education, Confirmation, Bible study... etc. However, I have to be realistic about the habits of my congregation. The majority of people are here on Sunday morning. Some can't, some don't and some won't come to other things during the week. So I have to take seriously the teaching portion of my call and bring the mountain to Mohammed, or something like that.

In this month's newsletter, I published the proposed schedule of the NL and asked for comments or questions. I received my first today from a clergy colleague in the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod. I consider this pastor a friend and an inspiration and I know he was somewhat teasing in his email, yet some portions of it really hit home. We discussed it on the phone, but I'd like to stir the pot a little with his comments.

He noted that by using the Narrative Lectionary, one could see the ELCA as moving either farther away from the Church catholic and, possibly, from its Lutheran roots.

Holy revelation, Batman!

Have we come so far that a desire to cover more Bible makes me less orthodox and, yea verily, less Lutheran? Say it isn't so.

First, the use of the Narrative Lectionary is a choice and is neither endorsed or encouraged by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. (It isn't discouraged either.) One might consider the Book of Faith initiative to be an encouragement into deeper Biblical work, but that's a different post/rant/exploration. Bringing broader and deeper biblical understanding to people in pews (and streets) is, last time I checked, at the heart of Lutheran self-understanding. It's right up there with Christ and him crucified. (It is, in part, how we know about Christ and him crucified.)

My pastor friend pointed out that the RCL or even a standard three-year rotation gives pastors of a variety of stripes some common ground to discuss our sermon preparation, to share ideas and from which to wade into deeper theological matters.

True enough, the RCL puts me on same pulpit plane, so to speak, with the majority of United Methodists, American Baptists, Episcopalians, LC-MS, WELS, Roman Catholics and many others on any given Sunday. Since our table fellowship and ordination practices are often dividers, the Common Lectionary can be a tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.

Ah, but there in lies my problem. I fail to see how a deeper understanding of Scripture is going to lead the congregation of Lutheran Church of Hope away from the Church catholic. I would think (!) it could only help. (Said the young ELCA pastor with optimism.)

Besides, I don't think it is my proposed nine months in the NL that is causing an ideological divide between some of my LC-MS brethren (and sistren), WELS, Romans Catholics and some Orthodox.

If we decide to explore the Narrative Lectionary, we will still:

Affirm our faith using the Apostle's Creed (except when we use the Nicene)
Baptize in the name of Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) 
Believe in Scripture as the inspired, written Word of God
Believe in the saints, alive and gone before as our cloud of witnesses
Trust in the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion
Understand God as having acted on behalf of creation, continuing to do so and planning to do so until the end of time

If we can't be united to the Church catholic through our faith in God's work of salvation in Jesus the Christ and through the things above, it doesn't matter how we study the Bible.

If we can't define ourselves, in the positive, by some unity in these things, then we are about as useful as the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14). Where is our fruit?

My hope in using the Narrative Lectionary (which has its own flaws) is to begin to deepen and build on the biblical foundation of the majority of my congregants. I hope that they will be energized by new hearing, new discussion and new understanding. In general, I think this is what all pastors work toward and pray for- across the Church catholic.


LoieJ said...

Our church in N Mn has been using the Narrative Lectionary (from Luther Sem) the past 9 months. It ends either this Sunday or next Sunday. Our interim pastor told me we will pick up on year 2 starting in Sept. She wasn't the pastor here when we decided to start it.

The pros of this lectionary is, of course, that there is the flow through the Bible, in chronological order, not in Bible book order.

The con is that we don't have the three readings, plus the psalms. There is a psalm, however, it isn't listed on the handy-dandy bookmark provided by the Narrative Lectionary material from Luther Sem. Since I read a lots of pastor/churchy blogs, I'm not in sync with what people are posting about up-coming lessons for each Sunday now.

Context for me: I go to a weekly small group Bible study of women who read the upcoming lesson(s) for the coming Sunday. It is nice to get a foretaste of the coming reading. This is a long standing group and some of our previous pastors have attended this group when they are available, as participants, not as teachers.

My husband attends a weekly text study started by the previous pastor who hoped that some of the retired pastors around her as well as other would attend. It is a very small group, and probably more intellectually focused on the readings. My husband misses looking at the three readings each week. But sometimes he tunes in to the pod cast on the 'web of the Luther Sem prof who talks about each week's lesson. How many of our people are tech savvy to do this???

I can't say how the average pew-sitter has reacted to this lectionary series. The pastor who left at the end of 2010 always provided a list of daily readings in the bulletin for those who wished to fill in the story between Sundays. Who knows how many people followed this. Our interim pastor hasn't done this.

My daughter is a pastor who has told me that her church and several in her area in Wisconsin are also doing a narrative series, beginning Jan 2011. I think that they are devising it themselves. I haven't heard what she thinks now after 5 months.

I really don't think there should be any worry about whether this takes us away from what other groups are doing. All my life, I've been in churches that use the lectionary, but occasionally, the pastor does a sermon series that he/she devises. No body seems worried about that. Nobody seems to think that that has to be reported to higher authorities or something. Do we know or care if the other churches in town are sticking to the lectionary during a certain season*? I would guess not. As for those other groups, even the other Lutheran groups, who sometimes come across as believing that we are not quite pure enough to get into heaven, well, I really don't care what they think. As I've told my son, who I hope finds a church he is willing to attend, now living in an area of few Lutherans: If the church has more rules for joining than God has for getting into heaven, walk, no run, the other way!

*But yes, it really is nice that so many churches do often have the same scriptures on Sunday. Quite some years ago, I would come home from my church, turn on the radio, and hear a sermon on the same verses from a Catholic church.

gena g. said...

Love this new routine. A better understanding can bring peace, if not directly, than indirectly...and I'm all for (the) peace. Proud of you for "continuing on."

Mary B said...

I'm looking forward to using the Narrative Lectionary. I don't think that I will feel the disconnect from the RCL to impact the value of my worship or threaten my "lutheran identity". If anything- it should affirm my connection to the narrative of what I believe.