I tend not to be a topical preacher, impossibly dependent upon the lectionary. So, each week, I fervently search the assigned texts, hoping one will capture me and pull me into a sermon.
But every now and again, there are times when veering from the lectionary seems like a good idea: maybe a sermon series during Lent, stewardship, world events that need addressing, even those times when your congregation needs a little push or encouragement.
A good chunk of the reason for sticking with the lectionary is that I know that others, in other denominations and all over the world, are hearing the same texts. And this makes my heart stretch a bit in wonder and hope, to know that not only were all connected – despite our different and variant manifestations – but we’re all connected through the big “W” Word, as in Word of God.
But a few weeks ago, I swerved wildly away from the lectionary and preached from 1 Corinthians, fully aware of the trees and ditches in my path but trusting that sometimes a preacher needs to go off-road. I knew our people required a little sight-seeing, that we’ve been around for a mission church for four and a half years now, and though we’re growing (an impossibly beautiful thing in the urban core), we’re not growing in giving. Not only financial giving, but also giving in all the ways Christians can give back to the neighbor and the world. I knew I needed to push them out of their consumeristic, adolescent, “what’s in it for me?” mindset and into a more mature one. And Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians seemed to be just the ticket because he was dealing with many of the same issues in his little mission start there.
But I’m pretty convinced this consumerism, “what’s in it for me?,” mentality is not just my mission church issue. It is as if the big “C” Church is dogged by it, just as the church at Corinth. And so what Paul wrote was blunt: basically “get over yourselves,” and then “now, check out the absurdity of the cross” because, he writes, that’s all there is.
Maybe it doesn’t matter whether we stick to the lectionary or not to connect hearers, though the Word does what it does because it is, after all, God’s Word. But what does seem to matter is us, the whole, big fat, “C” of Church which Paul calls the “body of Christ.” It seems to me that right now, despite our differences and even disputes, we need to stick together, to recognize that Jesus is the head and we are no more than a bit of pancreas or kneecap in this body, this church. Because now, more than ever, we need each other.
We need to acknowledge that holy things happen in places we don’t feel comfortable, and that we, as Christians can’t love everyone but Jesus can, and so, at least we can be polite. That we give to the greater church because, though infected as every human institution is by sin, it still plugs along as broken bodies do, and it is finally made up of people, the all of us. People different from us, people like us, but people, who share heartbreak and song, who chortle at the same dumb jokes, who swim in the same baptismal waters and eat and drink the same promises. People who eat pickles out of jars with their fingers and then pray for good things for their children. People, who are connected by this Word of God, this Word made flesh, this One who was, is and is to come. And who, on the last day, will bring with him sandwiches and snacks, because all of us, all of us, are hungry.
*A line from Andrew Bird’s song “Tables and Chairs”