The Tyranny of the Lectionary

By The Rev. Bob Hooper Confessional time:                          I, The Rev. Robert C. Hooper III have a love-hate relationship with the lectionary, the prescribed readings set forth by powers greater than me for Sunday mornings.  See this is the thing; in the Episcopal Church as in many mainline churches the reading we use and are to preach on are part of a schedule of reading and not ones we just choose. This creates an interesting dilemma for the preacher. What if I don’t like the reading? What if I want to preach on something else? What if maybe just maybe I can't find The Good News in the readings for the day? Long ago, I made a deal with myself that I would preach on the ideas, concepts and themes related to the readings of the day and not just what I want. Some Sundays it is a joy and others it can be a real pain, if not nearly impossible. Now, I consider myself to be an adequate preacher with a good base of knowledge in all things Jesus - but really - some Sundays are just too much for even me. Non-the-less a deal is a deal and a rule is a rule, so on I go preaching even when it is difficult. This is what I like to call "living under the tyranny of the lectionary." Well, maybe that's the point. Maybe this is a good thing. By following the lectionary and not just preaching on what I want to preach on, I and by extension the congregation, am forced to confront the hard stuff. To think about and discuss the parts of Jesus' message that makes me squirm. Take it from someone who spends a fair amount of time with the Bible and its message. Most of it is not warm and fuzzy, cute and cuddly, no matter what the pictures in that children's Bible show you. Jesus was about the hard stuff, the important stuff, and the stuff we might rather do without. Jesus was about change, radical change, in our hearts, our lives, in our communities and in the world around us - Jesus is about transformation. I have another confession for you: I would not have it any other way. To struggle with the hard questions is to be engaged. Watch and listen to the people around Jesus, they are constantly asking questions and frequently pushing back on what they hear. They can sense that something new and amazing is happening right before their very eyes and they don’t want to miss a minute of it. They want to know more - they want to understand. When they do stray, Jesus calls them back, usually by challenging their preconceived ideas and notions of the way the world is and should be. There are two old sayings in the Episcopal Church that I love: one is "Its Baptism not Brainwashing" and the other is "He Died to Take Away Your Sins Not Your Mind." Being a Christian is not always easy, in fact I would suggest it never is. But, would you not rather struggle and squirm and know, truly know, Jesus and by extension yourself than to be a passive passenger in the New Creation and in your own life? The Rev. Bob Hooper is the rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church. He blogs for St. James’s every Tuesday, reflecting on the community, parish life and (being Rector) anything else he likes.