By Debbonnaire Kovacs, submitted May 6, 2015 As some or most of you know, I’ve been following the texts in the Revised Common Lectionary for some time now in my devotional writings. Perhaps it’s time to explain again why I do that. I first became interested in the lectionary when I read something that Kathleen Norris said in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. She pointed out that it’s the Protestants who claim to follow sola scriptura, yet described the Protestant church of her childhood as having sermons based on one passage of Scripture. In contrast, she said, attendees of the Catholic convent where she was an oblate (lay associate) would hear very nearly the entire Bible read in church over the course of three years from the lectionary readings, if they attended faithfully.
I was immediately intrigued and looked up an online lectionary source to learn more. I learned that there are four passages assigned to each week: Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures, Psalm, Gospel, and Epistle, all tied together in theme in some way, and all or most of them read during each church service of participating churches. The pastor may use more than one in a sermon, but usually focuses mostly on one. I realized this meant over the course of the three-year cycle, a pastor was guaranteed a minimum of 624 sermon topics. Most Bible passages can be used in multiple ways for multiple sermon topics; therefore a pastor (or a devotional writer, for that matter) following the lectionary never has to worry about coming up with a topic or repeating herself. On top of that, a lectionary writer or speaker has a high probability of reinforcing or enriching a subject many hearers or readers will hear more about that same week. At the multi-denominational church I attend, the worship committee works to arrange all words, music, activities, and altar art around the focus passage of the day, ensuring that a multitude of diverse minds will get the message in a multitude of diverse ways. I love this!
Many churches, both Catholic and Protestant, follow the lectionary, but according to Wikipedia, “The Talmud claims that the practice of reading appointed Scriptures on given days or occasions dates back to the time of Moses and began with the annual religious festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles…Within Christianity, the use of pre-assigned, scheduled readings from the scriptures can be traced back to the early church, and seems to have been inherited from Judaism.”
This seems to me to be a good tradition for a Judeo-Christian denomination such as Adventists to follow. Our churches leave the choice of scripture for each week up to the speaker, and it’s also worth mentioning that in most Adventist churches, congregants will hear several or many Bible passages each week, not just one. However, I have learned that there are Adventist pastors who use the lectionary.
This week, instead of a story, I thought I’d share parts of all the passages from this week, sharing some insights that seem enriching to me.
Acts 10:44-48 [Note: The first lesson this week is not from the Old Testament, possibly because we are in the seven-week Easter season.]
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
This occurs right after the Cornelius incident familiar to most Adventists [see the earlier portion of Acts 10], and then after a sermon in which Peter emphasizes God’s love for all. What I particularly find interesting, and always have, concerning the early church, is that in almost every story, people were baptized the minute they accepted that Jesus was the Messiah and had been raised from the dead. Instruction came afterward—“They invited him to stay for several days.”
Psalm 98:5-10 [The whole psalm is included in the lectionary readings; I have chosen just the last few verses to comment on.]
Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
Sing to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the voice of song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy before the King, the LORD.
Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,
the lands and those who dwell therein.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,
when he comes to judge the earth.
In righteousness shall he judge the world
and the peoples with equity.
As an Adventist, I have been raised on stories of the Great Day of Judgment. I am thankful to God that we learned about grace fairly early in my life, and therefore knew this was not a day to fear, precisely, but still, it’s always portrayed as a day of great solemnity and awe. The word terrible is used sometimes. It’s almost shocking that this psalm portrays it as a huge festival of celebration. Not only people and their musical instruments, but the sea, lands, rivers, and hills are represented as being in a paroxysm of joy, because the Day of Judgment has come and they know God loves them and will judge with righteousness and equity!
1 John 5:1-6
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
Ah, this is more familiar. It’s all about obedience. Or is it? The fact is, in most of our sermons we insist that God’s law has been based on love from the very beginning: Adam and Eve had a loving relationship with God and that made them obedient; it was a fracturing of that love and trust that caused sin. Moses, the great lawgiver, insisted that the first and paramount thing was to love God with all one’s heart and soul and mind and strength. Yet we still seem to want to live, all too often, as if obedience to some particular list comes first, and then love. Maybe.
In our hearts, we do know better. Love is obedience and that’s how you can recognize it.
Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
Just in case we need any more clarification, here are the words of the Son. Love. Love. Love. (Nine times in this passage.) Joy. Complete joy. Friends. Fruit. And the reason: “I am giving you these commands so that—why? So that you may love one another.”
How to know if you are living the life God wishes: Look around. Are you loving God? Are you loving others? Are you loving yourself?
Excellent! Keep on doing just that!