As most of you know I have chosen to follow the Lectionary texts assigned each Sunday as my core texts for preaching. I do this as a spiritual discipline, not because I believe those appointed texts are any more important or inspired than other biblical texts, but because it causes me to prayerfully consider the message God has for me in texts I might not choose or want to use left to my own desires. After a nine year trial period, the Revised Common Lectionary was released in 1994 as an alternative to several previous versions. Over time I expect the lectionary readings will change again taking those who use them to different scripture texts while still guiding the reader into every major portion of the Bible over a three year period.
The lectionary texts appointed for the 21st Sunday in Kingdomtide contain a passage from 2nd Timothy. Paul is writing to Timothy about his concerns for the church and trying to equip him for the demanding work ahead, “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to truth and wander away to myths” (verses 3-4, NRSV, 1989). John Wesley had a similar concern when he said, “‘I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.’ (‘Thoughts Upon Methodism,’ 1786.)
In this political season I am afraid that people have surrounded themselves so tightly with people who “suit their own desires” or have lost the “doctrine, spirit and discipline with which they first set out” that we cannot hear each other. We can no longer listen to each other and hear the other person’s needs, wants, desires or concerns. Each group asks “how can they possibly believe that?” without first asking what “truth we might be turning away from”.
The local church is not exempt from this. It was shortly after the adoption of the last lectionary that Laurel Heights looked seriously at itself and asked if the congregation was still on the track God had set or if God’s mission for them had changed. It is helpful from time to time to sharpen the tools God has given for ministry and to take a moment to look around at where we are. A congregation might want to consider ministries they might not have considered recently or ask others outside the congregation to see if they had unknowingly “wandered away” or relaxed in “the discipline with which they first set out”. The conference offers such a program for healthy congregations who want to take the initiative to do a self-evaluation. They provide coaches and resources that will function much like following the lectionary in that they will touch on all the major areas of discipleship and probably take people to areas of ministry they might not have considered exploring otherwise. Like scripture, healthy congregations are living and active expressions of a living and active God. I hope you will come hear about this gift that will help each of us share our needs, wants, desires and concerns while [we] “hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which [we] first set out.”
Rev. Bob Allen will be here to explain this opportunity available to us on Saturday, October 29, 2016 at 9:00. Bob is Director of Congregational and New Faith Community Vitality for the Rio Texas Conference. Every person is important.
See you Sunday,