A Gentle Reminder to Preachers and Worship Planners During the Season after Pentecost
So the time has come for get down to planning for worship for the coming Ordinary Time (the Season after Pentecost) that extends from the Sunday after Trinity Sunday through Christ the King Sunday.
As you do, let me offer a gentle reminder about how the semi-continuous version of the lectionary our Book of Worship has adopted is intended to be used.
On each Sunday during these months, as on all other Sundays, the Psalm is chosen as a response (sung and/or prayed) to the Old Testament (or first) reading. There is always an intentional connection between the Psalm and the first reading.
But the three major readings (Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel) are not, in our version, chosen to relate to one another at all. (There is a version of the Revised Common Lectionary that does that for Old Testament and Gospel, but the United Methodist Church chose not to adopt it). One might occasionally find linkages, but these are more commonly accidental than intentional. The only exceptions are Trinity Sunday, All Saints Day/Sunday and Christ the King Sunday, major feast days for which the readings are intentionally coordinated.
Instead, these readings are chosen to help congregations experience a "deeper dive" into three different "streams" of texts by reading from them semi-continuously over a period of weeks.
From a planning and preaching perspective, then, the wisest course is to pick just one set of these readings to focus upon to set the theme of worship and preaching, while also offering the others as readings in worship.
Unfortunately, many of our preachers and worship planners seem to have gotten the message that these texts ARE intended to relate to one another, IF the preachers and planners can just find some "creative" way to "extract" a common theme from among them or otherwise "stitch them together."
As one who both preaches (and presides) and hears preaching weekly, including preaching that sometimes attempts such "creative stitchery," let me offer a view from pulpit and pew at once.
From the pulpit and planning side, just how hard is it to kick against these goads, dear colleagues? What a strain it is to try! If only for your sake, let go what may be your need to make meaning of seemingly unrelated things; for in this case, they are actually unrelated.
From the pew side: We know you're trying hard to help us connect with all of these texts, and we appreciate the effort. But really, you're wearing us out. We can't keep all those texts that aren't actually related in our heads the way you may think you can, and we just can't follow where any of this is taking us all that well. We love you, but less here really would be more! Pick just one to focus on for a while. We'll all be happier if you do. Really!
If such pleas from me do not convince you or those who plan worship with you, then perhaps a bit of tongue-in-cheek ripped shamelessly (and entirely legally!) from Mark Twain might.
"Preachers and planners attempting to find a motive for gathering these readings together on each Sunday should be brought up on charges; those attempting to find a common theme among them should be convicted and ordered to surrender their credentials; those attempting to convince others they have studied and prepared with such diligence that they have found the common theme should be fired."
Whatever it takes...