Back in the late l960s a minister transferring into our community was being "examined" by the Committee on Ministries (UPUSA). When he was asked about preaching, he laughed and said that preaching did not take much of his time. He said it was pretty simple. On President's Day, you said something about Washington and Lincoln. On Valentine's Day you said something nice about love. On Mother's Day you just had to talk about how wonderful mothers were. And he went on through the whole year with this same kind of agenda. We were disappointed and silenced by that answer.
It was to combat that kind of preaching that my denomination began to push heavily for the use of the Lectionary and to have sermons about the message of the Bible. But that was nearly 50 years ago. Some of us have now been through the same three year cycle of texts 15 times. It appears that now many of our preachers are returning to the holiday version of preaching because they are bored or disappointed with the repetition of the three year cycle.
One of the changes that is needed is for the lectionary readings to be changed after a three year cycle. There is great value in having others assign text options for preaching as it does force a minister to preach something other than her own opinions. But there are large sections of the Bible that get left out of the current lectionary. A committee could prepare new lectionary selections every three years and provide much more variety of biblical texts.
The second change that I think needs to happen in most Christian congregations is the elimination of all those social calendar Sundays. Back in the 1960s Bishop James Pike created a lot of discussion on his suggestion that the Christian faith needed to travel lighter and to jettison a number of its theological positions. I think the Christian faith needs to jettison all of the social calendar Sundays and to focus much more intently on the basic questions of faith: Why are we here? What are we to do? Why is there something and not nothing? Who is Jesus? How does revelation happen? What is the Spirit? Where do we go? What is our purpose?
The Christian Church has blessed and become entangled in too many marginal issues. It has become the marketing agent for Hallmark cards, the blesser of wars and military actions, the cheerleader for patriotism and the endorser of all kinds of social policies. Most of these special Sundays are accommodations the Christian faith has made to the American culture. The places where the Christian faith is most dynamic, alive and powerful are countries where none of these Sundays are honored. South America, Africa and the church in China do not weaken their focus on the providence and grace of God by celebrating these secular celebrations.
There is certainly every reason why these causes may be celebrated in the public arena, but there is no good reason why they should be the focus of a Christian worship. There are School auditoriums, there are civic centers, there are public parks in which Labor Unions can celebrate Labor Day. Veterans honor Veterans, 4th of July picnic may be held. These do not need the blessings of the Christian community to happen. The Christian community has lost its identity and its power by trying to bless all these different calendar events.