The Christian year consists of two cycles: preparing, celebrating, and then living into our discipleship to Jesus Christ. The first of these is Advent through the Season after Epiphany. The second is Lent through the Season after Pentecost.
In the Lent–Season after Pentecost cycle, we prepare candidates for baptism or reaffirmation (Lent), deepen the formation of Christians in basic doctrine, commission them into ministry (Easter Season), and then challenge and support one another in living out these ministries as we follow Jesus through his ministry leading up to his crucifixion (the Season after Pentecost).
Like the other Ordinary Time (Season after Epiphany), the Season after Pentecost begins and ends with what we might call “bookend Sundays.” These Sundays provide the frame for what comes between them. Trinity Sunday is the first of these. Christ the King, or, alternatively, All Saints (if you celebrate Extended Advent), functions as the second. Trinity Sunday launches us into our ministries after Pentecost with a celebration of the Triune God in whom all our lives and ministries are grounded. Both Christ the King and All Saints, whichever we choose to function as this season’s other bookend, point us to our final destination in the culmination of the reign of the one who makes us and all things new. All three have readings that are related to one another and focused on the gospel lesson.
That is not the case for the Sundays between these bookend Sundays. Since we follow the semi-continuous series of readings for the Revised Common Lectionary in our Book of Worship, none of the readings was chosen to relate to the others. The only intended connection among the readings is between the Old Testament lesson and the Psalm. So, as we’ve noted elsewhere, please do not spend time trying to figure out the “secret” connection between the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings during these weeks. There isn’t one.
And that’s by design.
Just how you in your context need to proceed during these months of living out your ministries in the name of Christ and the power of the Spirit is not something any lectionary can entirely predict. So during these months, nearly half the Christian year, the lectionary offers you three parallel choices of series of semi-continuous readings in Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel. You and your planning team pick the series and progression of series that makes the most sense for you in your context.
Here are some possible directions for series based on the three streams of texts.
Prophetic Ministry—Calling and Working for Justice, Righteousness, and Peace: Year C is the “year of the prophets” for the Old Testament readings in Ordinary Time. Included are Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, and Habakkuk.
Mission in the World but not of the World: The Epistle readings in Galatians, Colossians, Hebrews, Philemon, I and II Timothy, and I and II Thessalonians consistently keep that tension alive. Throughout these letters, there is a consistent focus on how being disciples of Jesus makes us different from “things as usual,” both personally and corporately.
Learning from the Master: The Gospel for this year is Luke, and the readings from chapters 7-21 cover the heart of Jesus’ teaching and ministry, concluding with his death (Christ the King Sunday).
Mix and Match: Perhaps you would prefer a combination of some of these themes. “Crossover” points that easily allow you to “switch streams” are built into the lectionary. On July 3, the Elijah/Elisha series ends along with the readings from Galatians, so on July 10 you could “switch streams” in your focus without interrupting the flow of either. The same happens on August 7, when the Old Testament moves to Isaiah while the Epistle moves to Hebrews, and on October 30 when the Old Testament moves to Habakkuk, while the Epistle moves to 2 Thessalonians.
Celebrate three relatively new “seasons” for United Methodists, The Season of Creation, A Season of Saints, and Extended Advent.
The Season of Creation is an ecumenical effort, begun in Australia, to give an extended focus to God’s creation and our stewardship of it in earth and sky and seas throughout the month of September. We also provide resources based on the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for each Sunday.
A Season of Saints is a Discipleship Ministries initiative, now in its sixth year, to enable our churches to rejoice in all of God’s saints—from the whole of Christian history, from our own United Methodist heritage, and in our local communities. A Season of Saints kicks off each year with World Communion Sunday and culminates in All Saints Sunday. Resources for A Season of Saints 2016 can be found here.
Extended Advent is an ecumenical initiative in which an increasing number of United Methodist congregations are choosing to participate. As the linked article notes, Advent actually had started right after All Saints up until Pope Gregory VI chose to shorten Advent to four weeks in the eleventh century. Though the season was shortened, the readings were not changed. Extended Advent can become a way for congregations to experience the fullness of Advent earlier, when it is less likely to generate Advent/Christmas music and décor wars.
Create Your Own Series: Alternately, you could do as a number of congregations do during at least part of these months, and move away from the lectionary altogether. The transition points noted above might be opportunities to do just that. If you do so, however, consider continuing the reading of the gospel so that the congregation is always hearing and able to respond to the teaching and ministry of Jesus.
However you decide to relate Scriptures and worship planning through these coming months, do so with openness to the work of the Spirit in your congregation and community, the calling of Christ to be his disciples, and the mission of God to extend salvation into all the earth, beginning where you are.