Rev. Michael Keith
Have you noticed that when you go to Divine Service there are usually at least three readings from the Bible? One of them is a reading from the Old Testament. Another is a reading from one of the Epistles (creatively referred to as the Epistle reading). The last reading is from one of the Gospels. Have you ever wondered why those readings are read on that Sunday?
Your pastor does not pick the readings on Saturday night. In fact, your pastor does not pick the readings at all. And that’s the point.
There is a long explanation about how the readings that show up on any given Sunday have arrived there-I am not going to give you that long explanation here because I don’t want to-so just very briefly: The system of appointed readings we use on Sundays throughout the Church year is called the Lectionary. The Lectionary has been passed down to us in various forms, over the long history of the Church–in fact even going back to the synagogue. The Lectionary is the way the Church protects you from your pastor.
You need to be protected from your pastor. Why? Because he is self-centered. He is egotistical. He is arrogant. He thinks he knows it all and therefore you need to sit down and listen to him tell you it all. You see, I am a pastor. I speak from experience here. I have a lot of things to say. I have a lot of opinions and I am pretty sure they are the right opinions and I am really sure that you ought to have the same opinions as I do. I have some ideas on politics as well and boy, you really need to hear those! I have a couple axes that need grinding and a few hobby horses that need riding. I also have a few other clichés that need to be used…
But you know, the funny thing is, it turns out that you don’t come to church to hear my opinions and thoughts on things. I’m a little put out about that because I have a lot of good thoughts-but apparently you come to see Jesus. The Lectionary protects you from me and my brilliant thoughts and opinions and political insights and directs me to preach to you from the Word of God. It also forces me to preach from the entire bible and not just my favourite verses that deal with topics I feel are important. The Lectionary protects you from me. That’s a good thing.
Okay, let’s have full disclosure here. Sometimes the Lectionary is hard. Sometimes when I look up the texts I am supposed to preach on for the next Sunday I get the cold sweats. I don’t like that text! It makes me bring up some uncomfortable topics. The people may not like what the Word of God says. And if they don’t like what the Word of God says and I am the one saying those things then…they might not like me. And I like when people like me. A lot. I much prefer it when people are shaking my hand and patting me on my back for being such a swell guy. I don’t like it when people are grumpy and angry with me. The Lectionary protects you from me here as well. It protects you from my cowardice. It forces the pastor and people to be confronted with the Word of God-whether it is comfortable or not. That’s a good thing.
Now, I have a challenge for you. The next time you are in church before Service, look up the appointed readings for that Sunday. Read them. And then see if you can identify a theme that runs through them. See if you can guess what your pastor might be preaching about during the sermon. See if you can guess why the hymns for that Sunday were selected. Then, discuss it with your pastor after divine service. Ask why he went where he did in the sermon. Tell him where you thought you might have gone with the texts. Ask questions about the texts and the hymns. Your pastor will be blown away that you noticed that the service wasn’t just thrown together willy-nilly but it has a coherent theme and that he was trying to actually, you know, do something with it. You will make his day. Let him know that you are glad that he has enough sense to use the Lectionary to protect you from him.
Rev. Michael Keith serves as pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church and SML Christian Academy in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org