Friday, April 20, 2012

Lectionary Musings

by Rev. Mark Reece

I really love the sequence of texts the lectionary offers us preachers for walking with our congregations through the season of Lent. I want to offer some words concerning the lectionary for those who have expressed curiosity and elaborate on its importance during the season of lent. The Revised Common Lectionary offers four preaching texts for each Sunday of the year. There is always a passage from the Psalms, the Old Testament, the New Testament and a second reading from the New Testament that could include any passage outside the Gospels. Preachers and worship teams are afforded the privilege of praying and studying the texts to see which one we feel led to use as the center-piece of worship. The music, readings and others expressions of worship should revolve around the scriptural theme of worship.

In more liturgical traditions, pastors are often expected to use the prescribed lectionary texts as a part of the Sunday litany. As Baptists, in the free tradition, we have more flexibility and are able to embrace the lectionary texts when we feel led or go in other directions. It’s a far easier task for us to open the scriptures and peruse the pages until something sticks out at us. However, when a preacher and congregation embrace the lectionary we’ve disciplined our selves to focus on texts that we might not typically focus on in a service of worship. We’re required to dig and pray with the belief that in every Biblical passage there is a Word from the Lord.

I often embrace the lectionary during the seasons of Advent, Lent and Eastertide. The lectionary texts are selected in such a way as to direct our thoughts and our spirits on a spiritual journey. I encourage you to reflect upon the passages we’ve reflected on this Lenten journey. From Jesus in the desert, to Abraham and Sarah’s wilderness, to Jesus overturning the moneychangers in the temple – the lectionary continually invites us to deeper and more rigorous contemplation and spiritual reflection. While these Lenten passages have taught us something about the human condition and our insistence to often go our own way, each passage has a hint of resurrection with the goal of pointing our hearts toward Resurrection Sunday.

Today’s text, Numbers 21:4-9 places us right square in the desert with Moses and the Israelites. The Israelites were hungry for the Promised Land and tired of being in the wilderness. They became impatient and not only did they grumble against God but they grumbled against their leader. Their attitude was the catalyst for some pretty bad news. God sent serpents into the wilderness, biting the people, and some of them died. As you might imagine, their attitude towards God and Moses changed from discontentment to a yearning for mercy.

How does God respond to the Israelite’s suffering? God does not remove the serpents from the desert but God does provide possible alleviation from their suffering. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” This is a dreadful story of the Israelites forgetting where they came from and the worsening condition that resulted. But it’s a beautiful story of God’s grace, mercy and power to provide resurrection in the middle of the desert. “Everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” That’s good news brothers and sisters. That’s good news from the heart of the desert. The lectionary text this week calls us to self-reflection in the wilderness yet offers a glimpse of resurrection. Be blessed this week!

Mark Reece is the pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Mount Airy, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Grove.

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