Reflection: Learning from Our Ancestors
Rehoboam answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men.
Some of you know that the Presbyterian Planning Calendar prints readings each Sunday from the Revised Common Lectionary, which is the three-year cycle of Bible readings that unite churches in worship all over the world, as we read and hear proclaimed the same Scripture lessons on the same days of our Lord. The Revised Common Lectionary, or RCL, has its roots in the Roman Catholic Lectionary, but was adapted for Protestant churches such as Lutheran, Episcopal, Congregationalist, and of course Presbyterian. If you want to follow the lectionary, Vanderbilt Divinity School has the best website on it at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//
Recently I came across an amusing article on the shortcomings of the RCL, and about the same time I fell upon a website for The African-American Lectionary (though it seems to have stopped after developing six years of readings). This lectionary, which has been developed by a distinguished group of African-American Christian leaders and scholars, connects Scripture readings with events that are significant to African-American Christians. It can be found at http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/readings.asp
One church now follows the Narrative Lectionary, which was developed at Luther Seminary, which not surprisingly is the largest Lutheran seminary in the United States. It attempts to address some concerns with the RCL, for instance being a four-year cycle so that each of the four Gospels can have its own year. It also provides much more emphasis on the Old Testament, partially to reflect the fact that the bulk of the biblical text is in the Old Testament. As it is, the RCL also expanded the Old Testament coverage from the Catholic lectionary.
For those who are bored with or concerned about shortcomings in the RCL, the Narrative Lectionary is quite a change of pace. In fact, I don’t like it! Change is so hard. But if you’re curious, the Narrative Lectionary can be found at workingpreacher.org, which also has the RCL.
Why all this preacher geekiness? For some reason I’m being asked to preach a lot this fall, including at the church that asked that I use the Narrative Lectionary. I found that the fall readings focus on telling the Old Testament story, and the reading about Rehoboam comes up later this month. I have also been thinking a lot about All Saints Day, and how much I love that day, and the Communion of the Saints (as I always say, we Japanese love our dead people). And it occurred to me recently how much—virtually all—of what I do is my simple application of what my family taught me growing up.
Maybe that makes me a “good girl,” and some will say that I have been blessed with an extraordinary family, but the unfortunate story of Solomon’s son and successor Rehoboam tells the hard and universal lesson that there is wisdom in experience, and there is wisdom in heeding the advice of our elders and the stories of our ancestors—and we dismiss that wisdom at our own peril.
This last week, we have heard of tragic events that can happen if we fail to learn from history. The world is now hearing of the casualties and terror arising from the abrupt withdrawal of US military personnel from Syria, leaving the Kurdish people to attempt to defend themselves against the Turkish military, which is larger and more powerful than the Kurds. This seems to be a repeat of the prior administration’s action, or inaction, that left the Kurds to lose thousands of their lives in the fight against ISIS.
Closer to home, the mounting number of fatal shootings of innocent African-Americans by white police officers continues to become even more bewildering. I feel for the neighbor of Atatiana Jefferson, who phoned the police to ask for a welfare check on the home where Ms. Jefferson was staying to take care of her ailing mother. That welfare check resulted in a police officer shooting into the window of the house, killing Ms. Jefferson in front of her 8-year-old nephew. This happened in Forth Worth, Texas, two weeks after the conviction of Amber Guyger, the Dallas police officer who shot Botham Jean as he watched television in his own apartment.
Even non-believers have appreciated the Bible as the story of a people, and these stories of God’s relationship with our spiritual ancestors are an immeasurable gift for us as we learn about God’s love for us, our failures to be faithful, and God’s mercy shown to us in the life-giving grace of Jesus Christ. As with the young ruler Rehoboam, our failure in heeding the grace and wisdom of those who come before us can lead to tragedy, whether it be the division of the ancient kingdom of Israel, continued violence in the Middle East and wherever ISIS might strike, or more innocents sacrificed in a society steeped in racial fear and weaponry.
As the old adage goes, those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. We are gifted with the stories of our spiritual and cultural ancestors, and the sure knowledge of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even in times of change, may we learn from our past, and with deep roots of faith grow to face the future with confidence and agility.
And let us pray for mercy for those who are caught in the crosshairs of violence when the wisdom of our elders is ignored.