I don't normally bother reading lectionary guides for preachers, preferring my own judgement, imagination, and ability to interrogate the texts for myself. But I'm immensely glad to have come across David Ackerman's Beyond the Lectionary!
There are two main reasons for my disregard for lectionary guides. Firstly, because when I do consult one for inspiration, what I read there is almost always unanimously dull and lifeless. Secondly, because the three year Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is now so familiar that there is little point re-reading the obvious.
But what Ackerman offers us here is astonishingly fresh and different.
It's always struck me as odd that we allow ourselves to be constrained in our theological and biblical explorations by the so-called "Authorized Lectionary" -compiled by some anonymous Committee of Guardians somewhere- when there's a whole load of other scriptural material that is routinely excluded. Ackerman calculates that the RCL uses only 24.9% of the available biblical texts! So, like me, he's keen to go exploring.
He steps outside the box of the RCL to offer us an additional wealth of material for a fourth year of readings. And in doing this he tempts and challenges us with a year of hitherto unused Bible readings. And what might these be, I hear you thinking? What do they teach us, I ask myself? Why are they not "usually included": we should all be wondering....?
The selection he makes is refreshing, cohesive, enlightening, and fascinating.
He is not put off by the difficulties presented by some of these scriptures: as texts for preaching, as difficult to explore theologically and as challenging to our understandings of God.
Each set of four Sunday texts is carefully assembled for complementarity and cohesion. The comments he offers are carefully chosen: never banal, never shirking the difficulties of the text and -just as importantly- never seeking to control the outcome. He offers us a number of possible ingredients and the encouragement to be creative.
If there is a steer then it's always sensitive encouragement to take Jesus' inclusive preaching as his guide and be unafraid to look long and hard, and encouragement to expand our horizons, embrace the rich inclusivity and diversity of the church
He values good preaching and this is a courageous book for courageous preachers. There is much here to help us reclaim not only the place of preaching but improve our own practice.