The Apostle Paul advised his mission team minister Timothy, who served the church in Ephesus, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13). FH church continues the apostolic and ancient church practice of public reading of Scripture as a spiritual discipline each Sunday. In it we hear the words that are our story, our true story, and we learn to listen for what the Lord is saying to each of us and to FH as a gathered body. The reading guide we use is called the Revised Common Lectionary, which is followed by churches around the world. These readings of the Bible are organized into three year cycles in which the church reads through one of the Gospels, the Psalms, wide-ranging Old Testament passages, and various letters of the New Testament.
In addition the readings highlight the seasons of the church year in which we take time to remember the life and teachings of Jesus from Crib, to Cross to Crown. The Christian Year begins with Advent (Jesus’ coming), goes through Epiphany (Jesus’ Manifestation), Lent (40 days of preparation), Holy Week (Jesus in Jerusalem and Crucifixion), Easter (Jesus’ Resurrection—Ascension) and, some fifty days later, Pentecost (the coming of the Spirit of Christ). After Pentecost is ordinary (meaning numbered—ordinals) time ending appropriately in the Sunday before Advent called the Reign of Christ / Christ the King (this November 24th).
Many at FH report great appreciation for how the Christian seasons help them focus on Jesus throughout the year. Some report also that so much reading of Scripture in the service can be overwhelming. While it is not necessarily a bad thing to be overwhelmed by the Word of God, there is something we can do to increase the significance of the readings in our hearing. The suggestion is to read them the week before they are read publicly in church. This way the public reading is not the beginning of listening but the culmination of listening to that Word the whole week before. The two main websites to find and read the upcoming Scriptures each Sunday are below.
Question 1: Why does the lectionary leave out certain passages? This is because the compliers sometimes cut out portions of Scripture due to trying to fit readings into a three year cycle and also trying to limit the length of time for reading each Sunday so other things could be done in the service as well.
Question 2: Does the lectionary replace my personal Bible reading? Not really, for it does leave out passages, but the reason it is helpful is that it does give a good portion of the Bible over time.
Question 3: Should I read the portion of Scripture the lectionary leaves out? Yes, this is a good idea, for no one is perfect in their reasons for picking and choosing what Scriptures to read, especially a lectionary committee that must give and take among members. The words of one of our favorite Bible teachers, N.T. Wright, are insightful: ““Whenever you see, in an official lectionary, the command to omit two or three verses, you can normally be sure that they contain words of judgment. Unless, of course, they are about sex.”
This was illustrated only last week when the lectionary reading of the first chapter of 2 Thessalonians was verses 1-4 and then 11-12. The six verses left out made a strong point in the context, but do not fit a common tendency to domesticate Jesus into the “gospel of nice.” Those left out verses read: 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. 6 For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.” For the Thessalonians these were comforting words from the apostle Paul, most likely cut out because few western Christians have suffered the severe physical persecution that needs to hear that Jesus indeed triumphs in both justice and love. So we use the lectionary, but with our eyes open.
Question 4: Where can I find and read the lectionary Scripture readings? Two official sites:
The Vanderbilt site makes the Scriptures especially easy to read by a simple click: