Telling the Old, Old Story in a New Way

This blog post was supposed to be about the challenges of preaching on Elijah’s showdown with the priests of Ba’al, in 1 Kings 18:20-39. I spent a third of the sermon time last week clarifying the context and the characters… before even getting to the scripture reading!

It’s a messy and confrontational text, like much of the Bible.  And, like much of the bible, it takes some real interpretive heavy-lifting (you can hear my efforts here) to help it connect with the congregation.  (Though, Elijah has a gem of a prayer in the midst of the drama that needs no interpretation.  Here’s a beautiful musical rendition of the prayer by Jon Foreman.)

How did I end up preaching on this challenging text in the first place on Sunday, November 8th? Let me introduce you to the Narrative Lectionary: a four-year lectionary cycle that emphasizes the narrative arch of scripture each year.  We at the First Presbyterian Church of Beacon recognized that biblical illiteracy is a real challenge… both among long-time members and new friends. So, we thought we’d give the Narrative Lectionary a try.

We’re in our second year, and here’s how the Narrative Lectionary has been helpful for us:

  • Each fall we take a journey through the Old Testament, providing an opportunity to encounter a variety of texts and to reinforce the story of God’s people
  • Starting at Christmas, we stick with one gospel throughout the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  No more encountering the Gospel of John – seemingly out of nowhere – in the Easter Season.  In fact, the entire spring season of year four, is dedicated to the Gospel of John.
  • The narrative portion of the lectionary wraps up with Pentecost, leaving the summer flexible for a variety of theme and scriptures (Psalms, Epistles, etc.) that aren’t part of the narrative arch.
  • Though there aren’t nearly as many folks using the Narrative Lectionary as the RCL, there are some great resources out there (like Clergy Stuff and Spill the Beans), as well as an active facebook page where ideas and struggles are shared.

To be fair, it also has its limitations. It’s definitely a break-neck pace through the Old Testament (leaving lots of wrestling with how much context is required to connect the story from week-to-week).  It’s also a bit difficult when connecting to the habitual rhythms of liturgical seasons (eg. no John the Baptist during Advent).

But, if you’re curious about one way to tell the old, old story to a new generation – and you’re up for some new rhythms and heavy-lifting – I’d encourage you to consider the Narrative Lectionary.

Ben Larson-Wolbrink feels pretty darned blessed to serve the First Presbyterian Church of Beacon.  He loves his family and the community… not to mention the beauty of the Hudson Valley.  After a recent basketball game, a church youth coined the phrase: “All Pastor. All day.”  Ben has mixed feelings about this…  

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