My spell-checker does not like the word “lectionary.”
(My spell-checker also does not like the word spellings I fall back on because I learned them in the British Commonwealth…extra “u’s,” eh! And that reminds me that today is Canada Day! Today is the 150th anniversary of the passage of the political legalities that made Canada a united nation. At our dual citizenship house, we fly the “maple leaf” for a few days before and after the 1st of July, and then we have the “stars and stripes” join it on the 3rd, when we take down the “red and white” and let “old glory” wave on its own for a few days before we roll them both up for another year. Anyway, happy birthday to both!)
The “lectionary”: that is, the collection of readings put together by (some) powers that be and used regularly in many mainline churches. Some years ago, the worship leaders at the church I was serving agreed that we should give them a try for a while, and so we did. Each Sunday, the lessons were read and read very well, and most often the gospel texts were mined for the sermon. This was not met with unanimous enthusiasm. One particularly persistent voice wondered about the value of having a passage read without further comment, and, even more, having passages read that did not seem to be compatible with each other, or, worse, were improperly cut short. That voice came back to me when I received these devotional reading assignments for July 1st.
The first reading assigned for today by the lectionary (in case you’ve ever wondered who chooses the devotional passages) is Psalm 89:1-4 and 15-18. Psalm 89 is the last psalm of Book III in the psalter, and it is appropriately exuberant! Strong promising verbs cascade from the psalmist’s tongue: “I will sing!..I will proclaim!..I will declare!..” All of them are pointed heavenward, testifying to the faithful and steadfast covenant God. The psalmist, as usual, is inviting you and me to join in, to take these verbs on our own tongues and to see if it doesn’t lead to the plurals in verses 15-18, to an exuberant, believing, blessed, strong community!
Well, that’s not a bad way to begin a celebration kind of day, although if you are a little less inclined to public bursts of exuberance, perhaps the gospel reading will have something else for you.
The gospel reading for the day is Luke 17:1-4. Now that would take the exuberant air right out of a celebrator! …This passage is full of “woes” and “millstones around the neck” and “causing little ones to sin,” and “if your brother sins against you… 7 times in one day!..” and the bottom-lines are: “watch yourselves” and (upon repentance) “forgive.” (I don’t know about you, but the “7 times in one day” would probably make me put some distance between the two of us.) Anyway, there are your instructions for the day, if you are inclined to a more sober-minded day in a carefully examined life, even when it’s a day off. Perhaps the lectionary put these first two readings side by side as options.
The Old Testament reading is Jeremiah 28: 1-4. It’s a prophetic passage about how the Lord “will break the yoke of the king of Babylon…” and bring Judah back to normal in 2 years. It’s a hopeful word that underlines the promises and the power of the Lord of history for exiles…the ones in the far away land as well as, in Christ, the ones in the bandaged-up creation of every age until the end times.
Good news! …and the kind of over-arching word that could provide the link between almost any 2 Scripture readings.
The trouble is that Jeremiah 28:1-4 is a false prophecy! The lectionary stopped way short. Had it read on, it would have noticed that the prophet who uttered those words got nailed by Jeremiah and had his life stopped short by the same Lord of history just two months later! Hmmm…
But, leaving the exegetical issues behind, don’t hesitate to at least take the words from Psalm 89 with you today, exulting exuberantly in the Lord’s goodness to you, to me, and to our communities of faith.
(On this holiday, I also choose to go outside with a beverage, remember with appreciation the perceptive voice of D. Livid Vander Krowd from my past, and watch the “maple leaf” wave for a while. Cheers!)