Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 45:10-17; Psalm 145:8-14; Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

During the seasons of the church year such as Advent and Lent, Easter and Pentecost, there is a greater sense of connection I find between the lectionary readings. In this Ordinary time, I find there is a greater connection between like readings each week, such as between the Old Testament stories, between the Gospel readings, and between the Epistles, but not as much connection between the readings of the day. In my observation, it is easier to pick a thread, such as the Old Testament stories or the Gospel lessons, and follow it, week to week. However, I know some preachers that enjoy preaching on something completely different week by week, bringing in a new theme each Sunday. So in my reflections, I will refer back to the readings of the previous week at times, since that is how my mind works.

As we follow the threads of Genesis through the lectionary readings, we come to the story of how Isaac and Rebekah met and were married, and the transfer of the tale of God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah to the next generation, Isaac and Rebekah. It is a beautiful story of hospitality and trust, of a culture of long ago that still has sort of a fairy-tale feel to it as we read it today. The story of Sarah and Abraham’s family at times is like a fairy tale, and at times is more like a soap opera, but these are the ancestors of our faith, and it is important for us to remember these stories and remember the covenant God made with our ancestors, that from them would come a great nation.

Zechariah 9 describes the coming of a divine hero, and has often been attributed to Jesus. Jesus came not as a war hero on a large white horse, but a humble carpenter on a donkey. Jesus came proclaiming the message of God’s peace. Zechariah invokes the image of covenant and even speaks of the blood of the covenant–in the Old Testament, referring to the blood of sacrifice offered at the temple in remembrance of God’s covenant. Later, this was interpreted to mean the blood of the new covenant, symbolized in the cup at communion, shared by Jesus in his death.

Psalm 45 is a song for a wedding, a song about the preparations a bride makes in leaving her family and joining a new family with her husband, and the passage from Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) is also a wedding song, speaking of the love between a groom and the bride (look for the switch of who is speaking–sometimes it is the groom and sometimes the bride). Psalm 145 is a song of praise to God for God’s compassion, mercy and grace.

Matthew 11 speaks of the problem of religious hypocrisy, perhaps the number one problem that Jesus had with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. The leaders rejected John the Baptist and now Jesus but for different reasons. John lived a strict life, neither drinking nor eating beyond locusts and wild honey and the leaders claimed he must be possessed for living such a strict diet. Jesus came, eating and drinking with all, and was called a glutton and a drunkard.

In Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 11:25-28, Jesus thanks God that it is not the wise and intelligent who understand–not the great scholars and religious leaders who kept the religious order–but the “infants,” the people who were in need, the people who were made to be outcasts and called unclean and were unfit to be part of the religious pure life–they are the ones who understand, who hear the message of Christ, who are embraced by God. Time and again, Jesus turns the tables on the ones in power, revealing that God desires to bring in the outcast and lift up the poor, and that those who think they are on the inside are often the ones who do not understand at all.

The passage in Romans continues the conversation from last week’s passage on living consistently in God’s ways–not giving into the way of sin, but recognizing the saving power of Christ to transform our lives. It also continues the conversation about religious hypocrisy. Paul says we must turn away from that kind of hypocrisy in our own lives. Sin can control our actions, causing us to do the very things we hate, when we give into the passions of the world, as Paul describes it. But when we allow Christ into our life, Christ frees us from the sin that controls us, for we follow Christ’s way, not our own way and not the way of the world.

It is all too easy for us to call ourselves Christians and still have hate for a neighbor, a brother or sister in Christ. I don’t think we always have to like each other–it’s darn near impossible–and I’m quite certain that Jesus did not always like all of the disciples. But Jesus did always show love for them, even Judas. Christ calls us to love, and to turn away from the ways of the world, which call us to hate those who differ with us. Our actions are the outer expressions of Christ’s love within us–or not. If we continue to be ruled by sin–if we continue to hate, to harm, to look out only for ourselves and not see our brother or sister in need–we continue to reject Christ. Religious hypocrisy continues to be a problem we as the church struggle with today–claiming to know Christ and then doing un-Christian things to one another. Gossip, slander, hate, greed, violence–all of these come from sin, but Christ calls us to a way of love, a new way of life, where we love our neighbors, and we love our enemies. This kind of love can only come from God, and we can only be transformed by God’s love.

Call to Worship:
Leader: God called forth Abraham and Sarah to the land of Canaan
People: God calls us to follow.
Leader: God called Isaac and Rebekah to become a family
People: God calls us the family of Christ.
Leader: God called the prophets to speak against injustice
People: God calls us to live out justice and mercy
Leader: Jesus calls us to fish for people
People: Come, let us worship God, let us follow The Way, and let us gather the people to Christ.

Prayer of Confession:
Holy One You breathed in us the breath of life, and yet we confess we do not always acknowledge Your presence. We get caught up in the ways of the world and are concerned only for ourselves. We put our wants above the needs of others. We put our desires above the needs of the church. We put our ways above Your ways. Forgive us, O God, when we have turned away from You, from a brother or sister in need, or from the church, our family. Call us back to the path of right-living, so that we might walk in Your ways. Turn us away from the control of sin, and let us be filled with Your love, so that it might guide our path. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
Jesus calls us to forgive, and when we forgive others, we are forgiven ourselves. When we love others, we feel God’s love in us. We are renewed and restored for the journey of faith. Amen.

El Shaddai, God Almighty, we remember Your promises of old through the covenants with our ancestors. We have a new covenant written on our hearts, a covenant through Your Son, Jesus the Christ. We are given the promise of new life, and the hope of resurrection. We thank You and praise You for the blessings of being in covenant with You. May we remember our baptism, the renunciation of sin, the commitment to You, and the acceptance of Your transformative love in our lives. In the name of Christ. Amen.

Hymn Suggestions:
“Jesus Calls Us ‘Oer the Tumult” reminds us of the call of Jesus to follow Him.
As July 4th is Independence Day in the U.S., there are some great hymns to sing this Sunday–one of my favorites is called “This Is My Song” or “A Song of Peace.” It reminds us that God is God of all nations, not just us, and that we need to continue to pray for peace.

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