Why Open Source Lectionary?

CHAPTER 1 (excerpts)

Why is an Open Source Lectionary Needed?

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL)[1] is best understood and used as a flexible framework of Biblical readings for worship through the three year Church Year cycle, within which the preacher and worshiping community are free to alter or choose different texts to educate and empower the congregation to more effectively fulfill the mission of the church.  The RCL is a helpful framework of texts for worship, a common starting point for worship planning which regularly takes the congregation through the Gospels and other key Scripture passages.  If we did not have the lectionary, someone would have to invent something like it.  We can accept the framework of the RCL as an ecumenical gift and build upon it, however, without being tied to each and every reading.  This thesis will show why and how to depart from the RCL faithfully and creatively for the sake of the mission of the church.

The Revised Common Lectionary, the three year cycle of Scripture readings for worship and preaching used by most mainline congregations, is both a blessing and a limitation for preachers.  The RCL is limited both by deficiencies and by the impossibility of capturing the whole story of the Bible in a three year cycle of readings for worship.  While the RCL is a good starting point for preaching and worship planning, preachers and congregations need to claim the freedom to modify the lectionary locally for the sake of the mission of the church: to grow and send into the world biblically formed and informed disciples of Jesus Christ.  This thesis will use a Program Planning Model of inquiry, developing and sharing open source, online resources to help preachers adapt the lectionary to their congregation’s context and more fully communicate the story of the Bible and preach the congregation into God’s story and mission.


Benefits of the Revised Common Lectionary

The Revised Common Lectionary is a three year cycle of biblical readings for each Sunday and festival day of the church year, developed from the earlier Common Lectionary in 1992 by The Consultation on Common Texts (CCT), “an ecumenical consultation of liturgical scholars and denominational representatives from the United States and Canada, who produce liturgical texts for common use by North American Christian churches.”[2] The RCL is a helpful framework for worship planning, which can be accepted as an ecumenical gift, a common cycle of biblical texts for preaching that has developed over many years.  This section will highlight some of the benefits of the lectionary for preaching and worship under three categories: a framework for worship planning, avoiding the pitfall of preaching pet passages, and ecumenical unity and collaboration…

Limits of the Revised Common Lectionary

There is a cost, however, to adhering to the lectionary too strictly.  Nearly two decades ago, Eugene Lowry (among others) highlighted some of the shortcomings of many of the lections of the RCL from the perspective of homiletics, theology, and biblical studies; more recently, pointing out odd RCL pericope parameter choices and artificial or superficial connections between the readings for a given Sunday has become a regular pastime on Working Preacher’s Brainwave podcast.[16] Those shortcomings have not been overcome, as the RCL remains unchanged since 1992 and has become entrenched or ossified in liturgical and preaching resources and hymnals; yet how many sermons have been uncritically preached on these pericopes as given, especially if they use pre-printed RCL bulletin inserts?  How many preachers never even consider the alternative, semi-continuous Old Testament readings after Pentecost because they are not printed in the church year calendars published by their denomination or in the pre-printed bulletin inserts? …


Toward an Open Source Lectionary

How regularly do pastors step back from the lectionary to take in a big picture view of where their preaching needs to take the congregation over time?  How is our preaching and worship forming, over time, a community of biblically formed and informed disciples of Jesus Christ?  What does this congregation, including the preacher, need to hear during this season of the church year?  What if the RCL readings do not address that need?  How might the RCL readings be modified or replaced to do so?  Do we as preachers and congregations have the freedom to depart from the assigned readings?[34] The RCL is useful, but it is not Scripture itself.  It is not a priori true that what a particular congregation needs to hear on any given Sunday, or during any given season, are the lections chosen two decades ago by the CCT committee.  While the RCL is a helpful framework of Bible readings for the church year, it is fruitful to depart regularly, prayerfully, and thoughtfully from the assigned readings and engage the congregation in sermon series focusing on books, characters, or themes of the Bible, which over time build up an understanding of the Bible as a whole and of our place in the narrative world of the Bible as disciples of Jesus Christ.  The RCL provides many opportunities for the development of sermon series, but one is limited both by the reality of a three year cycle with a finite amount of possibilities for series on books, characters, or themes of the Bible; and by the inflexible nature of the RCL as it is entrenched in printed and online resource materials…