The Preacher’s Study
2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 2016
John W.B. Hill
1 Kings 18.20-21, (22-29), 30-39;
This Sunday we enter ‘ordinary time,’ and the Revised Common Lectionary offers a unique opportunity, from now until late November, to attend to three different voices of scripture, each in sustained discourse (that is, if we are using the semicontinuous readings for the Old Testament).
This is the moment, therefore, to take stock of such opportunities and choose homiletic strategies that can make the most of them.
This being the ‘Year of Luke’ (the version of the Gospel known especially for its compassion for those who are in trouble, and its attention to what God is doing in history), the Old Testament readings chosen to accompany this gospel are from the prophets, from Elijah to Haggai, with Jeremiah as the dominant voice. Prophets are people who see what the rest of us miss, who speak truth to power, who summon us to return to the ways of God.
How then shall we honour the unique character of the lectionary during this stretch of the year? How shall we help God’s people to weigh the cumulative force of three persistent voices, from Sunday to Sunday?
First, we can stay alert to the recurring resonances, and draw attention to them. This Sunday, for example, we encounter contrasts between a true prophet and false prophets, between a genuine apostle and self-serving apostles, between a teacher who speaks with authority and the scribes and teachers of the law.
Second, we can look ahead to discover how to seize the best moment for gathering up the elements (extended over a number of Sunday’s) of one particular scriptural voice, inviting people to integrate what they are hearing from week to week. It is not necessary to preach on the Gospel text every Sunday — so long as we make clear that it is a gospel lens through which we look to discover the deepest meaning of a text.
This Sunday’s readings call us to courageous faith. Elijah’s challenge to the prophets of Baal is a high-risk public drama designed to puncture the undiscriminating assumption that all forms of piety are equally valid. But the preacher may wish to wait before commenting at any length until the second half of this story is told (on June 12).
Paul’s challenge to the disciples in Galatia is no less heated than Elijah’s challenge to his fellow Israelites. His appeal to them will be spelled out in readings from this letter over six Sundays, so this may be the moment to introduce the letter and help people to hear the extreme tone of Paul’s concern. Does it really make a difference what you believe about the ways of God?
Sometimes it takes a stranger in our midst to awaken us to the unique revelation with which we have been entrusted, to break through our dazed familiarity with the gospel. So it was in the episode recounted in today’s Gospel reading: a Gentile, a hard-bitten centurion no less, has recognized something in Jesus to which his fellow Israelites are still blind.
John W. B. Hill is an Anglican presbyter living in Toronto, Canada. He is a Council member of APLM, chair of Liturgy Canada, and author of one of the first Anglican sources for catechumenal practice.
The above depictions of Elijah’s challenge of “the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18:19) were found on the walls of the third-century C.E. synagogue at Dura-Europos in modern Syria.