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A Bowdlerized Lectionary Passage

There are a number of lectionary selections that skip part of a passage. Sometimes this is for time. Sometimes it relates to topic, but sometimes it is simply used to remove material that might offend.

I like lectionary preaching and teaching. I think it forces pastors to get out of their comfort zones and expound on passages they might otherwise not read. I don’t think it’s the only way to go. I think preaching through the Bible has a place, as does topical preaching. But topical preaching is especially subject to the limitations of a pastor’s particular interests.

Further, I like a worship service that includes all four passages of the lectionary. As Christians we have remarkably little patience for hearing the scripture. I sometimes get the feeling that people prefer the sermon because it has less Bible in it. I have encountered very few services that do include all the passages, but I have truly been blessed by those that do.

But having said all of that, the Revised Common Lectionary can get no my nerves, and this week was a case in point. The Old Testament passage is from 2 Samuel 6. The story, as told in 2 Samuel, brings out many aspects of worship as seen then in Israel.

We start with the ark of the covenant in exile, away from the center of Israelite life. David wants to bring the ark to Jerusalem, so he proceeds to do so joyfully. But joy is turned to sorrow when Uzzah tries to steady the ark and is struck dead.

Now I know that’s a difficult passage in the Old Testament, but you might as well not try to understand the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures at all if you don’t want to recognize that the writers viewed contact with the holy as a very dangerous thing. (This is one of the difficult passages that my friend Alden Thompson discusses in his book Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?.

After the ark is kept in a home for a time, David again comes to move it to Jerusalem with better preparation. The story ends with David dancing before the Lord, and his wife Michal despises him for it.

Besides the inherent danger of approaching that which is holy, this story also illustrates the combination of fear and joy. We want to separate the fear of the Lord from the joy of the Lord these days. We don’t understand how these things can co-exist. But the Bible writers had no such problem.

Now what about the lectionary passage? Proper 10B gives us 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19. This splits the story as all the people are making merry and before Uzzah touches the ark in 6:6, then resumes it when David starts taking the ark on from the house of Obed-Edom. It skips 6:12a which tells us how David is motivated to do so when he sees that Obed-Edom is blessed while the ark is present.

We now continue the joyful procession, with our scripture reading skipping a funeral and three months of time, heading on into Jerusalem. Presumably, the congregation is not supposed to ask just why the ark is in Obed-Edom’s house.

Finally, the story ends with verse 19 as everyone goes home happy, and skips Michal’s story, which provides the other counterpoint. Worship can be destroyed by disobedience to God, but it can also be destroyed by those who despise the joy.

You may tell me that people can read these additional passages for themselves, and that the extra reading will not contribute to the service. I don’t think one can be certain of these things. For many church people these days, the scripture reading is pretty much all the scripture they get.

In this case, I think the story is made to say something completely different than it does in its full context. It’s like a different story all together.

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