Stories and our story

Sept. 8, 2022

By Rev. Rick King

This Sunday, we begin a new cycle of biblical readings in the Narrative Lectionary. Last year, we began using this source of our readings on Sundays from September through mid-May. No, I don’t generally pick the readings myself, because trust me when I tell you, if I picked the readings, you would only get my favorites, and we’d never take up any difficult ones! Here’s a wonderful explanation from the developers of the Narrative Lectionary at Luther Seminary. I hope it answers some of the questions you may have about where our readings come from, and why.

What is the Narrative Lectionary? It’s a four-year cycle of readings. On the Sundays from September through May each year the texts follow the sweep of the biblical story, from Creation through the early Christian church.

The texts show the breadth and variety of voices within Scripture. They invite people to hear the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the prophets, Jesus, and Paul. Listening to the many different voices within Scripture enriches preaching and the life of faith.

What are the readings? The texts include the major episodes in Scripture. They are arranged in a narrative sequence to help people see Scripture as a story that has coherence and a dynamic movement:

From September to mid-December the preaching texts begin with the early chapters of Genesis and move through the stories of Israel’s early history, the exodus, the kings, prophets, exile and return.
From Christmas to Easter there is sustained reading of one of the four Gospels
From Easter to Pentecost the texts are chosen from Acts and Paul’s letters.

Why these readings? Texts were selected that lead well to the proclamation of what God is doing. The stories tell of hope and disappointment, suffering and redemption. In all these varied contexts, we find God dealing with the complexities of human life. Stories from the Gospels differ each year, avoiding repetition and highlighting what is distinctive about each Gospel’s telling of the story of Jesus.

The church year helped to shape the flow of the Narrative Lectionary. Old Testament readings move through the story of God’s dealings with Israel and culminate in Advent with the prophets who speak of longing and hope. Readings from the Gospels fit the movement from Christmas and Epiphany to the Transfiguration, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week and Easter. Selections from the book of Acts and Paul’s letters trace the outward movement of the resurrection message, culminating on Pentecost with readings focusing on the Spirit.

What if we want to read a Gospel? When the primary text is not from a Gospel, there is an accompanying Gospel text suggested. So during the fall when the primary readings are taken from the Old Testament, and in the spring when primary readings come from the epistles, a Gospel reading is provided in the schedule. When the primary reading is from the Gospel, the accompanying reading is taken from the Psalms.

How does it work in worship? Many churches find it helpful to read only one lesson each Sunday — Old Testament texts in the fall and New Testament texts from Christmas through Pentecost. Others want a reading from the Gospels during the fall, even though the Old Testament is the main preaching text. To make that possible, brief passages from the Gospels are chosen to accompany (but not to replace) the Old Testament readings in the fall for congregations that find that helpful. In the winter and spring, accompanying texts are taken from the Psalms.

What do we do in the Summer? Summer is the perfect time to delve deeper into the Bible with a sermon series. This past summer, we did three of these series: the Ten Commandments (four weeks), 1 Peter (five weeks), and Ruth (four weeks). But in the future, we might do something different.

If you have questions—or suggestions for sermon texts or topics—please tell Katie or me and we’ll try and work them in!