Beyond the Lectionary
Beyond the Lectionary offers experiences of scripture that will surprise, enlighten, provoke and challenge.
Beyond the Lectionary gives preachers a new year of Biblical texts that are not found on Sundays (or other mainline Protestant holy days) in the three-year cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary. It provides readings from the Hebrew Bible, Psalms, Epistles/New Testament and Gospels for each Sunday of the liturgical year, along with several midweek observances. The texts have been selected with an eye toward continuity (progressing in order) and complementarity (textual completion or harmony), and they are accompanied by commentaries and prayers. Written in language that is accessible to both lay people and professionals, Beyond the Lectionary has the potential to transform congregational culture by bringing more of the content of scripture to people's awareness.
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Not One For The Pulpit One of the first questions provoked by the title of this book is – why? Why, when we have a perfectly reliable, tried and tested lectionary available to us, providing guidance and direction to a seemingly inexhaustible and well chosen study of daily material would we need anything more? The writer, in his introduction, makes precisely that point when he says he appreciates the discipline of a universal lectionary that compels, as a preacher, his theological reflection to conform to the rhythms of the theological year, rather than allowing him the freedom to impose the same favourite texts on a congregation week after week. But, as part of the defence of this (thoughtfully and intelligently chosen) selection of alternative readings, the point is made, with some validity perhaps, that, over its 3 year cycle the Revised Common Lectionary covers limited Biblical ground (calculating for Sundays and principal feast days only 7,756 verses or 24.9%) therefore depriving weekly congregations over the same period of over three quarters of the Bible. However, surely the greater justification lies in the universality of the lectionary – that on any given day, congregations and preachers alike may feel heartened and emboldened in the knowledge that the passages they listen to, reflect upon and deliver sermons around are the same passages that thousands of others also share and, in a way similar to the observance of the daily offices, our worship and praise and wonder is carried out of the doors of our own churches to unite with those of Christians everywhere. This though provoking and useful material for bedside table but perhaps not, in this reviewer’s mind, for the pulpit. -Review by Simon Tarlton, Weston-upon-Penyard ~ Simon Tarlton, The NEWSpaper Issue 56, Spring 2014
If you’re a church go-er, you may have noticed that friends from other Christian denominations often hear the same Biblical readings used in your church. This is likely to be true if you’re Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, a member of the United Church of Christ, or any of the other denominations considered “main-line Protestant.” The Biblical readings are often similar to those heard in a Roman Catholic Church. That’s because the denominations I named (and a few others) generally follow what’s called a lectionary: an appointed set of Bible readings arranged on a three year cycle. The lectionary serves several purposes: it enables people to become familiar with key parts of the Bible; prevents preachers from harping on one subject (well, some harp on one topic not matter what the Bible passage may be) and provides an opportunity for historically different denominations to share their common heritage. But what if you’re the minister of one church for a long time? Or a member of a denomination for many years? What if the appointed readings just don’t make sense for your local church’s situation given a particular set of events in the community? In his new book, Beyond the Lectionary: A Year of Alternatives to the Revised Common Lectionary, United Church of Christ minister David Ackerman, offers a fourth lectionary cycle. Drawing on the themes found currently found in the Revised Common Lectionary, the Rev. Ackerman provides an additional set of readings for use each Sunday that draws on Biblical texts not found in the Revised Common Lectionary. Ackerman’s skillful selection of texts is accompanied by essays that explain the selection of texts provided, how those Biblical pericopes follow the traditional theme for that Sunday, and serve as a foundation for the development of a sermon based on the new selections. Each section concludes with a prayer for illumination that draws the reader further into the spiritual depth of the selections. Having served as minister of a congregation in a rural setting in Western Pennsylvania for twenty years, Ackerman had used the Revised Common Lectionary as the basis of his preaching. In time, he began to see a need to explore the Christian scripture more fully within the context of worship. In time, this need resulted in the book, Beyond the Lectionary. Based on his use of the selected readings with the congregation at St. Paul’s UCC in Mount Pleasant, PA, Ackerman refined the work so that the length of readings and the clarity of the context was clear. Whether a pastor chooses to use the entire cycle found Beyond the Lectionary or select readings as different options for particular Sundays, Ackerman’s work invites preachers and worship leaders to prayerfully reflect on the themes of the Christian year while expanding their familiarity with the Bible. Reflecting Ackerman’s UCC background, the book is also written in an inclusive idiom, which is significant for lectionary resources today. Having read Ackerman’s book and considered the selections in the light of the three year cycle found in the Revised Common Lectionary, it is without hesitation that I recommend Beyond the Lectionary for those who preach from or study the Biblical readings appointed for use among ecumenical denominations. ~ Rev. Dr. Lou Kavar, Author, "The Integrated Self"
I don’t normally bother reading lectionary guides for preachers, preferring my own judgement, imagination, and ability to interrogate the texts for myself. But I’m immensely glad to have come across David Ackerman’s Beyond the Lectionary! There are two main reasons for my disregard for lectionary guides. Firstly, because when I do consult one for inspiration, what I read there is almost always unanimously dull and lifeless. Secondly, because the three year Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is now so familiar that there is little point re-reading the obvious. But what Ackerman offers us here is astonishingly fresh and different! It’s always struck me as odd that we allow ourselves to be constrained in our theological and biblical explorations by the so-called “Authorized Lectionary” –compiled by some anonymous Committee of Guardians somewhere– when there’s a whole load of other scriptural material that is routinely excluded. Ackerman calculates that the RCL uses only 24.9% of the available biblical texts! So, like me, he’s keen to go exploring. In Beyond the Lectionary he steps outside the box of the RCL to offer us an additional wealth of material for a fourth year of readings. And in doing this he tempts and challenges us with a year of hitherto publically unmined Bible readings. But what might these be, I hear you thinking? What do they teach us, I ask myself? Why are they not “usually included”: we should all be wondering….? The selection he makes is refreshing, enlightening, and fascinating. Each set of four Sunday texts is carefully assembled for complementarity and cohesion. The comments he makes are carefully chosen: never banal, never predictable, never less than interesting, never shirking the need to engage with any difficulties presented by the texts, and –just as importantly- never intended to control the outcome. Instead he offers a number of possible ingredients, some tasty nuggets of wisdom, and the inspiration to be imaginative in our creations. If there is a steer then it’s always sensitive encouragement to model ourselves on Jesus’ preaching, to challenge (a constantly reiterated word) our understandings of God, expand our horizons, and embrace the issues of our world. Ackerman takes scripture very seriously but offers a tenor of interpretation that promotes inclusivity in all its forms. Ever mindful of the pastoral role of the sermon, he values good preaching and this is a courageous book for courageous preachers who want to inspire courageous and optimistic congregations. There is much here to help us reclaim not only the place of preaching but improve our own practice and the expectations of those who listen. It’s ideal for inspiring regular congregations, student audiences, would-be preachers and group reflection. Check out David’s website http://beyondthelectionary.com and buy the book! ~ Rev. Dr. Terry Biddington, Chaplain, Manchester University
David Ackerman’s offering of a fourth “Year D” to the three year cycle of lectionary texts is a gift to preachers and teachers who seek to expand their congregation’s exposure and study to texts that are often ignored or even avoided in many congregations today. As one who preaches and teaches from the lectionary, I welcome this new resource for its potential to expand both my students’ and my congregation’s awareness of often ignored biblical figures such as Rahab, Tamar, and Rehoboam, as well as allowing them to spend significant time in (often short-changed) books like Leviticus and Ecclesiastes. Ackerman’s thoughtful interweaving of these texts to fit the church year will assist preachers and teachers in enriching their congregations’ repertoire of images of God and the multiplicity of ways the biblical account describes God’s interactions with God’s people. ~ Anabel C. Proffitt, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Educational Ministry, Lancaster Theological Seminary
Preaching is an artistic adventure, integrating imagination, text, inspiration, and congregation. Preachers are challenged to discover new images from ancient texts. This is exactly what Beyond the Lectionary does. It presents a lively alternative vision to the Revised Common Lectionary, an imaginative fourth year in which we meet characters and texts omitted in the three-year lectionary cycle. Preachers will find Ackerman's text challenging, engaging, and inspiring. Not for the timid of heart, Beyond the Lectionary enables preachers and congregants alike to hear fresh words that will inspire new creation and heart-felt mission. Preachers who experiment with Ackerman's lectionary variations will never be bored or boring, but alive in their encounter with the ever-fresh words of scripture. ~ Bruce Epperly, Theologian, pastor, spiritual guide and author of Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church
Finally, an additional year of lectionary readings that pushes the preacher to confront many of the "texts of terror" in the Bible. In wrestling with these texts, new opportunities for understanding God's supposed violence as a projection of human violence onto God will emerge, resulting in a deeper appreciation for the creative nonviolence of Jesus the Christ. David Ackerman has orchestrated a masterful symphony of diverse and challenging texts in this volume, and his own commentary is both profound and practical. ~ Rev. Paul Wrightman, Pastor, Community Church of the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel, California
Rev. Ackerman has provided preachers with a resource that addresses two vital needs in contemporary congregations. For parishioners who long for the stories they heard as children, familiar figures such as Noah, Jacob, Moses, David, and Daniel will come to life throughout the year in ways the Revised Common Lectionary does not provide. For those who do not know the Biblical story except from popular culture, this lectionary addition will provide context and detail essential to their understanding of the scope of God's love for humankind. This is an essential book for the preacher who wants to dig more deeply into the rich texts of our forebearers in the faith in a thematic, systematic way. ~ Rev. Ruth Shaver, Pastor, United Church of Schellsburg (UCC)