I was once part of a preaching listserv and had offered one of my summer sermons. I can’t remember the year, but I recall comparing Paul’s character to the character of one of the Old Testament prophets. One person responded who was a member of the Consultation on Common Texts, the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary. He proceeded to tell me that I had completely misunderstood the flow of the lectionary, and then went on to outline three different sermons I could have chosen to write for that Sunday.
His point was that the summer readings for the RCL are not necessarily meant to compliment each other. The intention is for the preacher to select either the Old Testament, New Testament or Gospel streams and follow them for the summer and fall months. While I took exception to his rejection of my sermon because it was not what he expected, I appreciate the reminder that this is a good time to follow books of the Bible in a way that lets us delve deeper into the history of our faith.
Depending on if you rely on McCausland’s or the BAS for your lectionary, your first reading may be from 1 Kings 18 or 1 Kings 8. This seems to be the only Sunday in this year’s Ordinary Time with this discrepancy. 1 Kings 8 is a portion of Solomon’s prayer to dedicate the temple. In this portion, it echoes to our readings throughout the Easter season, of God calling all people to Godself, a vision of all being united under God’s power and protection. 1 Kings 18 follows the thread of the summer series of first readings which consists of stories from the prophets. This week is Elijah bringing forth God’s triumph over the god, Baal. I encourage you, in your preparations, to read the whole chapter. I would not call this one of our finer moments. Elijah is desperate in his last ditch effort to bring the Israelites back to God. I would draw attention to Elijah’s motivation in v. 21. He is not destroying another civilization. He is showing the Israelites who their true God is, after King Ahab chose to worship Baal instead. This is not a story to be told to destroy other faiths. It is about choosing the God who has been our Source and power since the beginning of days.
In writing to the Galatians, Paul is also crying out to a congregation who are being influenced by prophets of other faiths. If you want to follow the second readings for ordinary time, or a portion of them, you may want to take a few minutes of your sermon to introduce the letter. The historical context and the purpose of these epistles is critical to understanding their content and to prevent proof-texting.
As I read the story of the healing of the centurion’s, I am intrigued by the crowd and Jesus’ motivation. The crowd says, “he is worthy of having you do this for him” or, in the Common English Bible, “he deserves to have you do this for him” because this centurion contributed to the temple. But Jesus doesn’t respond to the centurion’s generosity to the temple, but his love for his servant. It recalls for me the times when I have been asked to treat a parishioner with kid gloves, or give them preferential treatment because s/he is a “big giver”. Often, those folks aren’t even looking for preferential treatment, but there are those in the Church who are afraid of losing a source of income that they will ask for special treatment.
The selections in Ordinary Time give us so much to choose from, and, in order to be effective preachers and offer something our listeners can absorb and meditate upon, choices need to be made. What paths do you anticipate following this season?