Hard Teachings
Fr. Bruce Swinehart

We’ve heard some hard Scripture readings in church recently. Be prepared – more are coming.
This Sunday we’ll hear the story of the “binding of Isaac.” God tests Abraham’s faith by instructing him to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, but then intervenes at the last minute to spare the boy. While Abraham’s faith is admirable, the God to whom he is faithful seems like he might be some kind of monster.
Although scripture passages like this are challenging, in our tradition we choose to engage them rather than passing them over. We don’t select our Sunday readings according to what our “itching ears” want to hear, or to help the preacher make a particular point (I wish!). Instead, we use a prescribed cycle of readings and listen for how God’s “living and active Word” is speaking into our lives today.
Our readings come from the Revised Common Lectionary. It is common because it is used by most mainline protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church (with some exceptions). That means that on any given Sunday, Episcopalians usually hear the same readings as our Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Unitarian Universalist,
Disciples of Christ, and Catholic brothers and sisters.
The RCL was revised in 1992 from an earlier version adopted in 1983, which in turn was based on the Ordo Lectionem Missae promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church in 1969 in the wake of Vatican II. That lectionary was the first time in history that the Church established a set pattern of readings that enabled nearly the entire Bible to be
heard systematically over a 3-year period.
During Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, the readings illuminate the story of Jesus’ life and ministry that correspond to seasonal themes. In the Season After Pentecost (or Ordinary Time) in Year A, the Gospel lessons come from Matthew and the Old Testament readings take us through the stories of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs in Genesis and Exodus. In Year B, the Gospel lessons are from Mark, while the OT follows the story of Israel’s monarchs. In Year C we hear from Mark and from the OT prophets and “wisdom literature.” The Gospel of John is interspersed throughout, especially during the great feasts of the Church year.
(You can learn more about the RCL here: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu).
This Sunday, as we do every Sunday, we’ll listen to the Scriptures and ask, “Where is God’s grace in this?” We can listen to our lives the same way. Sometimes that grace can be hard to find. Sometimes hard truths need to be confronted and engaged. Sometimes we come face to face with suffering we’d rather avoid. Sometimes we’re
simply perplexed by God’s mysterious ways.
Sometimes the most faithful thing we can do is to argue with difficult texts and to struggle with them, especially in conversation with others. In fact, the Rabbinic Jewish tradition considers this to be an act of prayer.
But we won’t ignore them.