Many pastors and congregations use the comparatively slower summer to plan the upcoming programmatic year. I've been slowly introducing the idea of the using Narrative Lectionary (NL) to my congregation. The NL, an initiative being put together by several professors at Luther Seminary and some pastors in the Minnesota ELCA synod, is a fairly quickly paced romp through the arc of Scripture from Abraham and Sarah to Acts (September to late May). Each Sunday, the congregation focuses on one scripture passage that reveals the work God has done. Through the lens of that story, in its Scriptural setting, we move to more fully comprehend the work God is doing now. It is my hope that during this time our congregation will labor together and come to a better understanding of the narrative thread of what we believe. How are the Hebrew Scriptures connected to our understanding of Jesus? How do we see ourselves as children of Abraham? What are the lessons of the Exile?
In order to use the NL, we will have to drop out of formal use of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for about nine months. These are important themes and stories that don't quite make into the heart of the RCL. Arguably, they could be covered through Faith Formation activities, like Christian Education, Confirmation, Bible study… etc. However, I have to be realistic about the habits of my congregation. The majority of people are here on Sunday morning. Some can't, some don't and some won't come to other things during the week. So I have to take seriously the teaching portion of my call and bring the mountain to Mohammed, or something like that.
In June's parish newsletter, I published the proposed schedule of the NL and asked for comments or questions. I received my first today from a clergy colleague in the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod. I consider this pastor a friend and an inspiration and I know he was somewhat teasing in his email, yet some portions of it really hit home. We discussed it on the phone, but I'd like to stir the pot a little with his comments.He noted that by using the Narrative Lectionary, one could see the ELCA as moving either farther away from the Church catholic and, possibly, from its Lutheran roots.
Holy revelation, Batman! Have we come so far that a desire to cover more Bible makes me less orthodox and, yea verily, less Lutheran? Say it isn't so.
First, the use of the Narrative Lectionary is a choice and is neither endorsed or encouraged by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. (It isn't discouraged either.) One might consider the Book of Faith initiative to be an encouragement into deeper Biblical work, but that's a different post/rant/exploration. Bringing broader and deeper biblical understanding to people in pews (and streets) is, last time I checked, at the heart of Lutheran self-understanding. It's right up there with Christ and him crucified. It is, in part, how we know about Christ and him crucified.
My pastor friend pointed out that the RCL or even a standard three-year rotation gives pastors of a variety of stripes some common ground to discuss our sermon preparation, to share ideas and from which to wade into deeper theological matters. True enough, the RCL puts me on same pulpit plane, so to speak, with the majority of United Methodists, American Baptists, Episcopalians, LC-MS, WELS, Roman Catholics and many others on any given Sunday. Since our table fellowship and ordination practices are often dividers, the Common Lectionary can be a tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
Ah, but there in lies my problem. I fail to see how a deeper understanding of Scripture is going to lead the congregation of Lutheran Church of Hope away from the Church catholic. I would think (!) it could only help (said the young ELCA pastor with optimism.) Besides, I don't think it is my proposed nine months in the NL that is causing an ideological divide between some of my LC-MS brethren (and sistren), WELS, Romans Catholics and some Orthodox.
If the parish where I serve decides to explore the Narrative Lectionary, we will still:
- Affirm our faith using the Apostle's Creed (except when we use the Nicene)
- Baptize in the name of Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
- Believe in Scripture as the inspired, written Word of God
- Believe in the saints, alive and gone before as our cloud of witnesses
- Trust in the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion
- Understand God as having acted on behalf of creation, continuing to do so and planning to do so until the end of time
If we can't be united to the Church catholic through our faith in God's work of salvation in Jesus the Christ and through the things above, it doesn't matter how we study the Bible. If we can't define ourselves, in the positive, by some unity in these things, then we are about as useful as the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14). Where is our fruit?
My hope in using the Narrative Lectionary (which has its own flaws) is to begin to deepen and build on the biblical foundation of the majority of my congregants. I hope that they will be energized by new hearing, new discussion and new understanding. In general, I think this is what all pastors work toward and pray for- across the Church catholic.