Proper Math

If I’m honest, and who would care enough to lie about such things, I much prefer Luke’s Blessings and Woes to Matthew’s Beatitudes.  I think it has to do with the visceral nature of Luke’s version of some of Jesus’ most famous teaching.  Rather than the poor in spirit being blessed, we hear from Jesus that it is, in fact, the poor who are blessed, the hungry who will be fed, and those who mourn will find themselves overcome with laughter.  If the Kingdom of God is about some kind of grand reversal, then these moves from one fully relatable state of being to its opposite helps me visualize something that is otherwise way beyond my ability to comprehend.  What’s frustrating to me is that we so rarely get to hear Luke’s version of the Blessings and Woes.

I like to consider myself something of a rubrical snob.  I think clergy should learn to read italics, if only to know what rules they are violating as the illusion of common prayer slowly fades into the mist alongside apostolic succession and Dom Gregory Dix.  I have to admit, however, that my understanding of the liturgical calendar and its partner in crime, the Lectionary, is less than adequate.

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Epiphany 6, Year C, the only time when Luke 6:17-26 is appointed for the Sunday readings, is something of a lectionary anomaly.  Let’s look at the proper math.  Epiphany 6 is also known as Proper 1, but according to the rubrics on 158, Proper 1 is never actually read on a Sunday, but rather, it informs the lessons used for a celebration of the Eucharist that occur during the week following the Day of Pentecost, and even then, only if Pentecost falls on or before May 14th.  If Pentecost occurs between May 15 and May 26, there is no chance that Epiphany 6 or Proper 1 are read at all.  Only if Easter falls on or April 10 will we have the chance to read Epiphany 6, and to get Luke 6, it also has to be Year C which begins on Advent 1 of the year before a year that is divisible by 3.  Got that?

I’ve lost most you by now, I’m sure.  Please check back later this week for some real content for preaching.  Suffice it to say for now, that I’m going to savor Luke’s Blessings and Woes because by my math, I have no idea when we’ll get to hear them again.

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Not when, but what

My non-Episcopal readers will notice that this is one of only a handful of weeks in the Lectionary cycle when the Common in Revised Common Lectionary proves false.  My Episcopal readers will notice that the same is true from the Common in our Common Prayer, which gets a pass this week as some congregations will choose to transfer the propers for All Saints’ Day to Sunday, while others will continue the never-ending march of ordinary time with Proper 26A.  My friend, Evan Garner, has handled the question of when quite well in his blog today.  I’ll wait while you read it.

Since I will be involved in services on November 1st and the transferred Sunday, my concern this week is less about when we celebrate All Saints’, and more about what lessons we might use to do so.  I have long been an advocate for petitioning one’s bishop to ask permission to use the old Book of Common Prayer lectionary for the Feast of All Saints’.  In both sets of lessons, you’ll get a snippet from Revelation 7.  In both, you’ll hear the Beatitudes from Matthew.  The difference comes in the BCP lectionary’s use of the Apocryphal text of Ecclesiasticus, which is also known as Sirach or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach.  It was, in its day, a popular handbook of wisdom for study in educational settings (HarperCollins Study Bible, 1530), and it appears in the RCL only a few times during the three year cycle.

I like to hold on to this old tradition because of the balance the Ecclesiasticus lesson strikes between the Feast of All Saints’ and the less often celebrated, non-Major Feast of the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed on November 2nd.  The lesson opens by “singing the praises of famous men [and women],” but eventually turns its attention to those who “have perished as though they had never existed.”  To my mind, this lesson navigates the various themes one must juggle on a singular All Saints’ Day celebration better than the 1 John lesson of the RCL.  This came alive to me one All Saints’ Day as I preached a Sunday evening service in a congregation that was not my own, in their parish hall, the walls of which were lined with old, dead, white guys for whom various things had been named.  It has returned with vigor this year as I now serve a congregation with a penchant for naming things after clergy (not that that’s a bad thing, in and of itself).

Taking time to sing the praises of famous men [and women] is important, but so too is the commemoration of Aunt Sally, Gerald, or Joe, who were faithful disciples in their day, but of whom there is no written record.  On All Saints’ Day, it seems to me, it is important for us to take the time to honor both, for without them, the Church is not what it is today.

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Walking the Talk – Why I blog

I wasn’t going to write a post today.  I haven’t even sat down at my computer until now, and it is already 4:14pm.  I just wasn’t going to do it today, until I read today’s post by my blogging compadre, The Rev. Evan Garner.  Evan was part of a three person panel talking about blogging for ministry at the Bishop’s Clergy Conference in the Diocese of Alabama.  He reminded me that while this blog has been and will always be a blog for me; a place where I work out the Biblical text for myself, I have 150+/- page views everyday from people who come to Draughting Theology for a variety of reasons: preachers working on sermons, my parishioners looking for what I’ve got to say today, random Google searchers who want to know what salvation looks like, lost souls in search of comfort, and the occasional random search bot who has come in search of Search Engine Optimizing Key Words.  So, feeling like I should say something, I opened up LectionaryPage.net and stumbled upon the Collect for Easter 2.

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Collect for Easter 2, 1979 BCP

And I was reminded about why I started blogging in the first place.  Way back in 2005, my seminary classmate, Scott Peterson, invited me to take part in a group blog during Lent in 2005.  Our goal was to write daily, reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, and the 10 Commandments.  Following that, I invited other VTS class of 2007 members who were starting the dreaded summer of Clinical Pastoral Education to blog their experience.  Many of us had had ministry experience before seminary: teaching Sunday school, leading youth ministries, Stephen Ministers, you name it, but for the first time that summer, the rubber of our new vocation was meeting the road; we were going to have to show forth in our lives what we professed by our faith – that we were called to be ministers of the Gospel.

In the 9 years and close to 1,700 posts I’ve written since, I’ve turned my attention to blogging the Sunday Lectionary.  I engage scripture as something that is living and breathing – something that has something to teach me today.  I believe that with all my heart, and so my goal is to show it through my writing.  Some days, I accomplish that task, and some days I don’t, but it is always the goal.

With that goal in mind, I guess my question to you, dear reader, is this, “what does your life show that you believe?”  If those two things aren’t matching, how can you change your life to better fit what you believe about God’s dream for his creation?  Or, as my well worn title suggests, how can you walk the talk?

Inside the Brackets

Every once in a while, a Lectionary text will have some optional portions.  These are usually noted by parenthesis in the chapter and verse reference.  Often, the optional portions, while in line with the theme of the rest of lesson, contain some material that preachers and listeners might find troublesome.  Like I said, it happens every once in a while.  This week, however, three of our four readings have optional sections.  And if you take my advice from yesterday and read chapter 5 from the beginning, you could end up with a seriously long set of scripture readings come Sunday morning.

Which is not a bad thing.

As this week’s preacher, the Parish Administrator asked me which options I would like to use for Sunday so that she could get started on the Sunday bulletins (She doesn’t know of my plan to expand the Gospel lesson (I should really tell her about that)).  I decided that I thought we should hear the optional text in Isaiah, but decided to skip it in the Psalm and 1 Corinthians lesson.  Some of that decision was based on length and some on the content, but as I read the optional verses from Isaiah 58, I knew we had to hear them.  They begin with these words from the prophet to a people who have become hollow religionists rather than followers of the LORD their God, “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” (NRSV, emphasis mine)

Those words that I have set in bold above are the verses we use in advertising our donations to the food pantry here in town.  Sure, they are taken out of context, but I don’t think the intention is harmed in it.  As the LORD seeks to draw his people back, he reminds them that the goal of their religion shouldn’t be help for themselves, but it should be for the good of their community, especially the weak, hungry, and powerless among them.  (For more on this, listen to this week’s Sermon Brainwave) The people of Israel were called to be a light to the Gentiles.  We are called, in Sunday’s Gospel lesson, to let our light so shine before others that they might see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.  In neither place is the call to a life of faith about punching a ticket to heaven or felling good about yourself.  Rather, the life of faith should be outward focused, as in “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.”  The world is full of people who will sell you the false theologies of self-help and prosperity, but if we take time occasionally to read the stuff that is inside the brackets, we find that God has bigger and much better plans for this world.