“Why do we use a lectionary?” “What use does a lectionary have for a minister in the church or for the community at large?” “Wouldn’t life be easier if you just picked out all of the scriptures?” One reason we use lectionaries as communities and as pastors is because they force us out of our own comfort-zones into scriptures we would ordinarily glaze over. I have been preaching out of the Narrative Lectionary which comes out of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. I post blog entries based off the Revised Common Lectionary as provided through the library of the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University. I use both resources to help round out my teaching as a preacher and teacher of the Good News. I also occasionally wander off and do a series based on a particular book or concept, because even a crazy United Methodist minister like me has freedom of the pulpit and it can be cathartic to exercise that freedom.
For today’s reading I decided to use the complimentary daily readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. In those readings I was struck by the reading from Hebrews. Hebrews 3:1-6 says: (NRSV)
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also ‘was faithful in all God’s house.’ Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.”
The first question this passage raised was the obvious question for anyone who studies some selections of scripture. What is the “therefore” referring to in the previous section? The second chapter of Hebrews refers to: (Hebrew 2:17-18 NRSV)
“Therefore [Jesus] had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”
(Sidenote: Hebrews is a logically organized book with a lot of “therefore” statements, so I will allow you to dig into the “therefore” of the previous chapter if you are inclined. Be forewarned that there are two more therefore statements with a significant amount of explanation in the second chapter before this particular “therefore.”)
In my opinion, the content of the “therefore” of the first verse of chapter three brings light into the reading, especially the sixth verse. Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. We are a part of that house if we hold firm to the pride and confidence that come with hope.
Why would we have pride? We are part of a people for whom Jesus intentionally entered creation. We have a merciful and faithful high priest in Jesus. Jesus came in service, sacrificed to bring atonement, and was like us in every respect. We are a people who have lived in futility but Christ has come into the world. We are part of the people which were blessed by Jesus’ presence. We are a part of the household of God due to the faithfulness of our brother and high priest Jesus. While pride is often a word used with negativity in church circles, there is surely some blessing and joy to be found in the reality that Jesus chose to become a part of our human family. There is a pride that does not come with smugness, but with peace. This is the pride that comes with the fulfillment of hope and faith.
The fulfillment of hope and faith are also behind our confidence. The legacy of the Christian worldview is a legacy marked with perfection in creation shaded by sinfulness, tranquility in a garden overshadowed by ejection from utopia, calling into community tainted by broken sovereignty and nationhood, and voices crying out from the wilderness drown out by earthly concerns. Throughout the history of the Christian and Hebrew journeys towards God there has been continual frustration marked by the stubborn refusal of God to give up on the people. We have confidence because Jesus has come to be our high priest.
Ancient promises, hopes, and dreams are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ as our high priest. Furthermore, we are brought into the family of God through the incarnation of Jesus Christ into humanity as our brother. We have pride and confidence because Jesus has willingly done these things with us and for us as a people.
Why do we use lectionaries? I had no intention of writing a blog post on a high priest or on the legacy of hope this morning. We use lectionaries because they lead us out of ourselves into God’s realm where the unexpected can happen. Making a choice to step beyond our comfort zone can be a blessing, but let’s not pretend that taking a risk is always easy. It takes confidence to believe God can meet us out in the wilderness where we relinquish control and it takes humility to listen for a word that we do not expect.
I hope this explains in part why your minister may or may not use a lectionary. There are many other reasons to use a lectionary, but I personally believe that this logic holds well. When I bake bread, I proof the yeast to make certain the yeast is alive and will help the bread rise. The lectionary tends to be full of life in my experience and sometimes the bread we need is not the bread we have in the pantry.