In the church we have liturgical seasons.
We begin our year with the season of Advent. We celebrate Christmas and Epiphany, move into a bit of Ordinary Time, and then it's on to Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. We celebrate Easter and its season. Then we have the day of Pentecost with its fiery red, and soon it's back to Ordinary Time.
We're into the "low season" of Ordinary Time as we approach "rally day," and we hope our church folk come back after their lazy summers of sleeping in and traveling. The truth is that the "low season" isn't an official liturgical title, but believe it or not, Ordinary Time is.
So in a world where Ordinary is boring, what's a pastor to do?
Something a little less Ordinary. So during the summer months, I try to combat the low numbers that usually result from summer vacations, before the — again nonliturgical — "rally day" back to church in September.
Each year I try for a topic that might pique the interest of my congregation. One year it was "The Shady Ladies and Bad Boys of the Bible."
Last year we did a study on heaven and hell in a series I called, "The Hereafter: Here or After?" Often I seek out a theme song. I really nailed it with "Bad to the Bone," complete with original lyrics featuring all of the Bible's worst characters.
This year I again pondered what to do to engage my churchgoers as I compete for their attention with the summer sunshine, European vacations and God's gift to Southern California — those beautiful beaches. I needed something that would entice. I came up with Truth with a capital "T" — The Gospel Truth. If that can't get 'em in, nothing will.
And so this summer's sermon series was born: "The Gospel Truth: Whose Good News Is It?"
Before going into ministry, I pursued a doctorate in the New Testament. Academia was not for me, but I love to share about academia with my church. Unfortunately, over the years, I've come to realize that as a whole, we Christians know very little about the origins of our Gospels — for whom they were written, by whom, why, when and where. We don't realize that each of the Gospels tells a different story, for a different people.
So when a person claims to have the Gospel Truth, we must ask ourselves whose truth is it?
Each Sunday this summer at Fairview Community Church, we studied a different Gospel. We began with the first written, the Gospel of Mark, followed up with Matthew and Luke — the two Gospels that took their content from the Gospel of Mark and another source we call "Q."
Then we learned about the Gospel of John and its completely different Christology and writing style. And then we jumped out of the canon and looked at The Gospel of Thomas, the sayings Gospel that consists almost entirely of simple, often cryptic, sayings of Jesus. Last week, we read the controversial Gospel of Mary and examined the woman who may have been Jesus' most beloved disciple.
This Sunday we have one Gospel left to study. The newly discovered Gospel of Judas. Only brought to light within the last decade, Judas has long been considered the traitor, the disciple who turned his back on Jesus.
However, in this Gnostic text (by the way, we learned about the Gnostic community, which sought salvation through wisdom), we discover that Judas is not the betrayer who betrayed Jesus confidence but instead was fully capable of seeing Jesus' true identity and thus was the most beloved disciple.
As you can imagine, this series has been fascinating. For a pastor with an academic's heart and a preacher's voice, it has been challenging to take scholarship and make it palpable for the lay person.
And yet, for those of us who believe in a thinking faith, we know we are to be challenged, challenged by the Gospel writers and by their communities, their beliefs and their traditions, but moreover challenged by Jesus.
So I challenge you to read the Gospels: the four in your Bible and the few extra-canonical texts that exist beyond. You might just hear the challenge of Jesus himself: "You who have ears to hear: Listen."
The REV. DR. SARAH HALVERSON is the pastor of Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa. Her sermons are available on podcast through http://www.ocfairviewchurch.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun