Seeking Stories

Seeking Stories

Seeking Stories – An Introduction to the Narrative Lectionary

This summer we have gone on a great journey together. We have travelled through the mystical magical world of Dr. Seuss, learning from his wisdom, and being instructed through his rhyme. So this final morning of the summer, we once again are helped in our learning by the good doctor.

There is wisdom about how we travel with stories, from Frederick Buechner, one of the greatest storytellers of the faith, in his memoir Telling Secrets, writes:

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.”[1]

Maybe to lose track of our stories is to be orphaned in search of a family. And it is this family of faith where we find our stories.

For the preacher in Hebrews, he knows his stories. He knows of all the great forefathers of the faith. He knows of Abel’s sacrifice and Abraham’s journey’s. He knows of Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the promises of God. He knows of Sarah and her steadfast belief that yes, God could work wonders in her old womb.

And because that Hebrews preacher knows the stories of these faithful believers he too is able to join his story to theirs.

In worship we, as a congregation, are typically guided on our journey by the Revised Common Lectionary. A three year cycle, beginning in Advent, the readings provided by the Revised Common Lectionary are taken from the Old Testament, Psalms, Gospels, and other New Testament writings. At times they complement each other and the liturgical season quite nicely, yet at times they leave a preacher scratching their head trying to make sense out of how to fit seemingly opposite texts together.

While they cover a broad span of scripture throughout the Bible, there are some stories that are not present at all, verses pulled from the middle so that we miss a key part, or too much time spent on specific parts of the Gospels while excluding others. At times when a preacher looks at the Revised Common Lectionary for help, all that comes up is question after question.

I had heard friends and colleagues mentioning this new lectionary for a couple years, but it was last fall when it appeared on the cover of the Christian Century that I started paying more serious attention to this new alternative to the Revised Common Lectionary.

In his article What’s the text? Steve Thorngate explored a number of newer lectionaries that had popped up in recent years. The one that I, and others have found most intriguing is the Narrative Lectionary.

Thorngate writes,

The decline of biblical literacy is a complex cultural problem, not the fault of any lectionary, but Rolf Jacobson and Craig Koester, who started the Narrative Lectionary in 2010, are convinced that the Revised Common Lectionary isn’t helping.

“The Revised Common Lectionary includes a wide range of texts,” allows Koester, who teaches New Testament at Luther Seminary. “But it does not foster a sense of movement.” The Narrative Lectionaries priority is not inclusion but sequence—it seeks “a coherent sense of the whole.”

The Narrative Lectionaries accessibility is appealing. Each week it focuses on a single text, so churchgoers are asked to follow just one ongoing story. According to Koester, this also “allows the Old Testament, Acts and Paul’s letters to function as word of God more clearly, since they are not simply a preface to the Gospel.”

Koester and Jacobson initially conceived of the Narrative Lectionary as a nine-month experiment. They now offer a four-year cycle—a year per Gospel—with short series options for the summer.[2]

So this fall, we’re going to go on a little adventure together. We’re going to try out this Narrative Lectionary in worship. Beginning next week, we will encounter and re-encounter stories that we might have heard in childhood, but have heard less frequently in adulthood.

Along the way we’ll run into Noah, and Jacob, Joseph and David before turning to the prophets just in time for Advent.

We’ll celebrate Christmas with the Gospel of Matthew and continue walking through the entire Gospel that winter and spring.

Throughout our journey we’ll encounter stories of people of faith who have walked the path before us and provide a glimpse of how we might walk as well.

Beginning this week there will be some old and new resources for walking together in faith…

We will continue Bible study during the week, starting this week on Tuesday at 5:30. All are welcome to join over in my office.

Beginning next Sunday, there will be a weekly bulletin insert for you to take home with you for use in personal devotion and study. On each insert there will be prayers and questions for reflection, suggested daily scripture readings to help fill in some of the gaps in the story from one Sunday to the next, and service activities that are related to the key scriptures.

Our new website will be up and running on Tuesday. And with it there will be a new video section. In the video section I’ll be posting short introductions to where we’re headed the following Sunday in worship as we travel with the Narrative Lectionary.

Things will happen as we seek these stories, the familiar and not so familiar ones. Our lives will be transformed by our encounter with the divine as we join ourselves to the common story of Christ.

Frederick Buechner in his sermon entitled “The Two Stories”, says that not only do we humans share a common story, but God willing, we share it with Christ: “Yet they meet as well as diverge, our stories and his, and even when they diverge, it is his they diverge from, so that by his absence as well as by his presence in our lives we know who he is and who we are and who we are not. We have it in us to be Christs to each other and maybe in some unimaginable way to God too-that’s what we have to tell finally. We have it in us to work miracles of love and healing as well as to have them worked upon us. We have it in us to bless with him and forgive with him and heal with him and once in a while maybe even to grieve with some measure of his grief at another’s pain and to rejoice with some measure of his rejoicing at another’s joy almost as if it were our own. And who knows but that in the end, by God’s mercy, the two stories will converge for good and all, and though we would never have had the courage or the faith or the wit to die for him any more than we have ever managed to live for him very well either, his story will come true in us at last.”[3]

My prayer is that we will continue to join our story with God’s story as we begin travelling a new road together this fall. That we might set an example of faith that will reflect God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. That we will boldly welcome others to walk with us, discovering and rediscovering all the stories we might have forgotten along the way.

Alleluia and Amen.

[1] Frederick Buechner, http://frederickbuechner.com/page-group/buechner-themes/our-shared-story

[2] Steve Thorngate, What’s the text?, http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2013-10/what-s-text

[3] Frederick Buechner, http://frederickbuechner.com/page-group/buechner-themes/our-shared-story