reading paul reading us

from a 9th century manuscript (Monastery of St. Gallen)
This coming Sunday we're reading I Corinthians 13. On many Sundays preaching is challenging because the scripture is unfamiliar to the congregation. But not this week. This week preaching is challenging because the text is so familiar. People have pretty well memorized this passage after hearing it at so many weddings. How to recover the surprise, even shock that Paul's words first elicited? How to find the source of energy - the voltage - that takes this out of the category of a sweet greeting card into that of a contentious polemic? These are the questions that I am wrestling with this week.

Soon it will not be familiar texts from Paul but unfamiliar ones that will be at issue here. Our Lenten study this year will see our congregation reading Paul's Letter to the Galatians together. Here is how we have introduced this Lenten study to the congregation:

In Galatians the apostle Paul confronts the pastoral problem of a church that is forgetting the essence of the radically good news that has called it into being. The “Letter of Paul to the Galatians” takes us into the painful debate that scarred the early years of the church. It also brings us face to face with the ways in which Galatians has been used to inform anti-Jewish speech and action throughout Christian history. The subject of much scholarly debate in our own time, Galatians asks its readers to answer the central question that always faces the church: “What is the good news that a gospel people proclaims and lives?”

We plan to post resources for our communal reading of Galatians here over the weeks to come and invite reaction, comments and responses as a part of our conversation. While the question of what makes up the gospel - the good news - is always central in our life it seems good to make it a conscious focus while we are reading Galatians together. As a result, I am planning on making it the question that is at the heart of each sermon during Lent (this year running from February 13 through to Easter on March 31). I am hoping to post sermon notes (and maybe even sermon texts) here during that time as a part of our Lenten pilgrimage. All of this is in response to a common problem in the church - namely, that we assume that we know what the good news is and that our task is to get busy programming and organizing and doing. More often than not, however, we have either forgotten or have never really heard the surprising news that confounds and deconstructs our religious busy-work. I am not sure that I can find the words to adequately express this unexpected message but it seems to me that it is a preacher's calling to try. So, here goes.

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