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Summer Sermon Series: Little Books with Big Ideas

July 14, 2009
What's the big idea?

What's the big ideas?

If you don’t know, our church is a federation of two different churches from two different denominations, The American Baptist Churches, USA on the one side and the United Church of Christ on the other. Straddling these two traditions at Franklin Federated, I have what feels like three major options in the preaching schedule.  I could take what seems to be the lay of the land with the UCC and simply follow the revised common lectionary week by week, holding to the form, praying that God will reveal something new this time around. I lived in the lectionary for four years of my time at First Baptist Church in Newton, though, and so having been “all the way through” once, I’m not in a huge rush to live through those same passages again. I am aware of the important reasons why folks use the lectionary, especially when tied to the Christian Education program, so that everyone is on the same page and things are getting reinforced in a helpful way. But I also have to admit that sometimes it just felt like shoe-horning. I don’t believe that God gave us the lectionary; people came up with it. And while those people were faithful and well-intentioned, they had no idea where we were going to be 2009. On the serendipitous days that the lectionary seems to line up perfectly with what’s going on in the world, everyone oohs and ahs and says, “look, God IS still speaking!”

But I don’t feel it that often.

Of course, that brings us to the middle path: using the lectionary for most of the year, then leavening the loaf with bits of yeasty goodness in the form of off-lectionary passages to deal with major events in the world or the life of the church. No set form for how many times this happens, or why. But in a way, it almost gives more credence to the lectionary approach, saying, “okay, we’re off this week, but DO NOT WORRY! We will will hop right back on after this interruption.” It seems to say to me that we are more concerned with being lined up with everybody else.
Now one variation of this is to take specific times to do a series when it feels appropriate, and then one could stretch out a bit more and feel unfettered of the lectionary when there are bigger issues or projects to address. I suppose that’s about what I’m doing now with my Little Books with Big Ideas series, moving through the short New Testament epistles for the summer. The schedule basically looks like this:

July 5th: TITUS
July 12th: PHILEMON
July 19th: JAMES
July 26th: 1 PETER
August 2nd: 2 PETER
August 9th: 1 JOHN
August 16th: 2 JOHN
August 23rd: 3 JOHN
August 30th: JUDE

I think though these books are little, they gave foundational guidance to the way Christians shaped their lives together over the past couple centuries. Some of that was MISguidance, in my opinion, but I think it’s often because people missed the point or adopted tenants that actually just supported their point of view. You can hear more about that in the first installment, July 5th’s piece on Titus, available online now.
The audio for each of these sermons will be available online. I am often asked to put manuscripts on the church website so that people can read the sermons, but I have to be honest, I’m not generating manuscripts these days, so it seems disingenuous to cobble one together after the fact to try and represent the preaching event. I’ll get more into that in a later post.

Here’s the cliffhanger though: will I go back to the lectionary? The third path is somewhat more typical in Baptist Circles, and that is to ignore the lectionary altogether, to try to discern where the Spirit is leading, either in series or week by week. I’m intrigued to give the less fettered approach a go. Stay tuned.


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