Now that we are Anglicans we have become much more aware of the church calendar and, inasmuch as the good Rector Jay Greener and Curate Amanda Holm Rosengren invite me to join in on the teaching/preaching team, I have begun to think about how preaching over an entire year. I grew up in the kind of evangelicalism that either preached through a book in the Bible until the preacher was done or on a series until it was done, but — other than Christmas Day (or Christmas Sunday) and Holy Week, which was often no more than Easter Sunday — I was largely unaware of how pastors planned their year.
Now and then a pastor friend or a reader would discuss the preaching calendar but more often than not such thinking was far from my head.
When I wrote The Jesus Creed ten years ago, Paraclete at one point talked about having 40 chapters and I came up with 30 chapters. 10 more chapters would have made for a fat book so I was glad when they thought 30 was enough. But what was at work was their knowledge that Lent has forty days and a book of forty chapters is a good Lenten book. So I wrote a shorter 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed with devotionals for each day.
Which leads me to my point: church insiders have Advent and Christmas all but worked out and they are beginning to think about Lent.
So here’s my pitch for churches to consider: Why not think about one of the Jesus Creed books — the new 10th edition of only 24 chapters (The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others) or the 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed for Lent?
That time between Christmas and Epiphany until Holy Week is a good time to burrow down into the depth of the life of Jesus to think about what it means to live the Christian life. And Jesus reduced, yes that’s the right word when understood well, the Torah to two central commands: love God and love others. Some might stand up and cheer for Jesus for reducing the moral life to love of God and others (as yourself), but any serious attempt to love God and to love others all day long is met by its severe challenge.
Many think they’d rather get to the meat or to the challenging stuff or to the heady and theological stuff but not Jesus. He knew what Israel needed — what Galileans needed — what the Zealots and the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Herodians and the ordinary folks — was to learn to live well with one another by loving one’s neighbor as one loves oneself.
God thought the same for Israel so Deuteronomy 6 informed them they were daily — morning and evening — and while on the path with children — to recite what we today call the Shema: Hear O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
The demand to recite that daily was for a reason: because we need to be reminded constantly of this central obligation. If we are not reminded we forget or, more likely, we let it escape to the margin of the mind where it sits as something we affirm but not something present to our minds enough to stir us into constant love.
So, Jesus practiced and so Jesus taught: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. John made love the centerpiece of his Christian life teaching, and James did and Peter said the same … and Paul said the same a number of times.
Do we need anymore witnesses? Jesus, Paul, John, Peter and James — each said love was central.
One way of making it central is to recite the Jesus Creed daily. Join us. And consider it for a Lenten discipline.