Rethinking the Lectionary

Name the first 5 Old Testament stories that come into your mind.

Got them?

Good, now tell me when was the last time you heard that account read in church on Sunday morning, let alone heard a sermon about it?

Let me guess: the answer is never.

Want proof? Here are my five:

Noah’s Ark; Samson; Daniel in the Lion’s Den; the Three Men in the Fiery Furnace; and David and Goliath.

Now to be honest, I cheated.  I intentionally left out the Creation account, because that is in the Lectionary as the Old Testament reading for Trinity Sunday.  And to be fair, Noah’s
Ark and the Three Men in the Fiery Furnace are readings in the Easter Vigil.

Now the five I gave, and countless others, are some of the most beloved readings in the Bible, and yet, they are never read in the Sunday morning divine service; which leaves me to ask: how then did they become so loved?

The answer for me is that I learned them in Sunday School and in religion classes in the Lutheran school I attended.  Twelve years of school and almost 15 years of Sunday School is the only place I ever heard these accounts; never did they come up in the readings on Sunday morning.

Now if one were to only attend a Lutheran school, or if one were only to attend Sunday School, they would be familiar with these Old Testament accounts.  But if one were to
only attend the Sunday morning divine service, they would think these accounts never even existed.

Therein lies the very foundation of the problem with our Lectionary.  The Lectionary does a very good job of aligning the readings so that a theme is formed for each
Sunday.  And the Lectionary spaces the readings so that you do get a healthy dose of the full cannon of Scripture.

BUT, the Lectionary has done a poor job of incorporating the readings that are staples in the Sunday School and Lutheran school diet, and instead of incorporating these accounts, has instead opened up a set of readings in the divine service that are completely foreign to those who are developing in the faith.

Now the response to this is that we need to teach people, both young and old, the entire Bible, and one of the benefits of using the Lectionary is that it prevents me as the preacher from just selecting my favorite texts to preach on each Sunday and instead makes me preach on other texts that are important as well to building up the body of Christ.

But the danger is that we have created two separate and unequal levels of Biblical texts.  The first are the familiar stories that appear in Sunday School lessons and in Lutheran school curriculum: Noah’s Ark, Jonah, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, etc. and we have regulated them to the twelve and under generation of the church.  The second level is the readings we use on Sunday morning in the divine service, ones that more closely align
with the other lessons, normally the Gospel.

The ultimate problem is that children learn the familiar accounts in their Sunday School lessons, but then never hear them preached on Sunday mornings, leaving children to assume that those accounts heard in Sunday School are fables, only believed by small children, and that what they hear on Sunday morning is what is really important.  EXCEPT that what is read on Sunday morning in the divine service and what is studied in Sunday School comes from the exact same Bible.  And when children make this
connection, and they will make this connection either consciously or unconsciously, they will reject the entire Bible because the church has taught them no better.

Don’t believe me?  Read ‘Already Gone’ by Ken Ham.

The solution is both simple and complicated at the same time.  The first solution would be
to go into the Lectionary and replace a few of the Old Testament readings with some of the familiar accounts that do not appear in the Lectionary.  Some readings that could be replaced are those that were chosen merely because they are the source of a quote that Jesus refers to in the Gospel reading.

Unfortunately, many churches have purchased Lectionary books, etc. that would all have to be changed to reflect the new Lectionary, and most churches would balk at spending the money, when the old Lectionary works just fine.

So I propose an optional Summer Lectionary.  A new Lectionary for just July and August be composed in which the Old Testament reading is replaced with one of the familiar
accounts that do not currently appear in the Lectionary.  The currently assigned Gospel readings are at a point where Jesus is mostly in teaching mode, and so the Old Testament
reading could easily be switched and not disturb the flow of the Church Year in
any great matter.  The preacher would still have the option of preaching on the Gospel reading, but there would be the opportunity for those familiar and favorite Old Testament lessons to be read in the divine service for all to hear and enjoy once more.

About revschmidt

An LCMS Pastor in North-Central Kansas
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4 Responses to Rethinking the Lectionary

  1. L J McDermott says:

    Michael, I appreciate what you have written and agree with idea of a new lectionary, or, perhaps going back to the old one year lectionary. It would be good for the church to discuss the possibilities and act as one body to change for the good of the church. I would of course not be in favor of one pastor or a few going off to march on their own. The volume of your writtings on this blog surprises me. Now that I know of its’ existence I will try to keep up. Thanks for the food for thought. Lawrence of Plainville.

  2. Pr. Lovett says:

    I feel your frustration. But it’s not the Lectionary’s job to cover the Bible in such a fashion. That’s the job of the fathers, mothers, and teachers (which includes pastors). The Divine Service isn’t Sunday school or the classroom, and should we treat it as such – as many do – we will loose its chief purpose and focus: communion with God. The fact that many, many well-beloved Old Testament stories never make it into the sermons is not the fault of the lectionary, but of the preacher. Who can preach on Jesus as the strong man without thinking of Sampson? Who can think of St. John the Baptist not being worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal without thinking of Boaz and Ruth? Who can hear the parable of the sown seed without thinking of Jacob and the spotted sheep? Who can preach on Jesus conquering death without seeing David and Goliath?
    I’ll tell you who: pastors who don’t read and study the Scriptures. Most preachers study doctrine as given in commentaries and such, but don’t study the Scriptures; their interconnections, stories, and people. As a result, we’re left with preachers who compare Jesus gathering the children to Himself with their grandkids or a baseball team or other such malarkey, rather than it being compared to Israel being gathered under Nehemiah or Ezra.
    Don’t blame the tool for the incompetency of the artist.

  3. revschmidt says:

    Thanks for the comments.
    I will say that the 1 yr Lectionary does include some of the accounts that are missing from the 3 yr, but still leaves many others out.
    I would say that I am not advocating for story hour during the divine service, only that some of these absent texts be occasionaly read and preached on. You make a valid point that one cannot preach the Gospel accounts without thinking of and/or mentioning these accounts; but that does not mean we should not ever read them in the service?

  4. L J McDermott says:

    I really like the way Lovett things but it does pinch a bit.

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