Sequence of events: Narrative Lectionary connects God’s story with ours
by Christy Hallenbeck Ask, M.Div. '15
When addressing the Northeast Minnesota Synod at its 2010 Assembly, Rolf Jacobson, associate professor of Old Testament, spoke to the importance of scriptural transformation in the life of today's congregations.
He told participants about Genesis to Revelation, the legendary Luther Seminary course taught by his colleague Craig Koester, professor of New Testament. Year after year, the course's sequential sweep through the Bible has proven challenging and invigorating for students and the congregations they serve.
"Why don't congregations try this? Preach through the biblical story in nine months, starting in September and ending in May."
Jacobson posed this seemingly rhetorical question to his Assembly audience. Much to his surprise, at the end of the event, Dan Smith, '08, associate pastor at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Hibbing, Minn., approached him, saying, "Nine of us have agreed to try it. What's next?"
"I didn't realize I was volunteering to be part of this experiment," Jacobson said of that moment, which led to the development of the Narrative Lectionary, a collaboration with Koester. "Craig and I didn't even know we had this idea until Dan Smith said, 'What's next?' I think that's how the Holy Spirit works."
To answer "What's next," Koester and Jacobson laid out a four-year cycle for congregations to sequentially read and study the biblical narrative. Beginning each fall, the Narrative Lectionary preaches through the Old Testament, then after Christmas focuses on one of the Gospels to preach the story of Jesus, and finally preaches the story of the early church after Easter.
The goal of this sequence, while adaptable to each congregation, is to connect congregations with the whole story of the Bible.
"It's all one big story with multiple voices and intriguing perspectives," Koester said of Scripture as seen in a cohesive, narrative flow. "That can be a very powerful way of seeing things."
Sue Leibnitz, Master of Divinity middler, has witnessed the transformative power of the Narrative Lectionary at River of Joy Lutheran Church in Prior Lake, Minn.
"So much of our community life is anchored in story," she said of the River of Joy congregation. "It makes sense for us to anchor ourselves in Scripture in the same way."
That anchoring, Leibnitz said, has allowed community members to make connections between the biblical story and the story of their individual and communal lives.
"Everything we do is implicitly tied to our story, God's story and how they meet," she said.
In embracing the unique stories that make up congregations, Jacobson and Koester intend the Narrative Lectionary's usage to reflect its congregational and community context.
"We weren't expecting it to be the same everywhere," Koester said, "and it hasn't been."
To equip congregations with resources for preaching Narrative Lectionary texts, and in particular for sharing ideas with each other, Jacobson and Koester post on WorkingPreacher.org, a website of Luther Seminary's Center for Biblical Preaching.
Through Working Preacher, they collaborate each week with Kathryn Schifferdecker, associate professor of Old Testament, to share podcasts and biblical commentaries.
This open format and resource sharing allows the sequence to be used as intended, according to Jacobson.
"It's designed for flexible use," he said. "The idea here is to have a sustained story as the context for preaching the Word."
Such innovation and collaboration have led to congregational excitement about the Bible, Koester said.
"It's so rewarding to watch creativity at the local level," he said. "There are new dimensions of what discipleship looks like."
To learn more about the Narrative Lectionary, visit www.workingpreacher.org/narrativelectionary.