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Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 25:19-34; Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65: 1-13; Psalm 119:105-112;
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Romans 8:1-11
In following the ancient stories of Genesis, we are quickly moving through the generations of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and on to the birth of Rebekah’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Though we may have had a glimpse before, it is in this story of Esau and Jacob that we learn that God’s ways are not our ways, and that God is not always fair, at least in our understanding. Instead, God tends to turn the tables on our thinking and help the underdog. We learn from Jesus that the last shall be first and the first shall be last in the kingdom of God, that children are not only to be welcomed and embraced by the adult faith community but that unless we become like a little child we shall never enter it. In this story in Genesis, we learn that even though the ancient custom was to hand down the inheritance from father to eldest son, in this case the younger son will get the inheritance. Even though Esau, the elder, is favored by his father, Jacob the younger, favored by his mother, receives the birthright from Esau in a moment of hunger and foolishness on Esau’s part, and then receives the blessing through trickery and deceit, with help from his mother (chapter 27). This theme will continue in the story of Jacob’s son Joseph, and even among Joseph’s two boys, where the younger is blessed by Jacob first.
God does not always work through the strongest and the bravest, but often in the Bible, it is the underdog, the younger (David was the youngest of his brothers, too small to wear the armor of Saul), the outsider (the Parable of the Good Samaritan), the poor and oppressed (the slave girl who tells Naaman’s wife about the prophet of God who can heal him in 2 Kings 5), the outcast (the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus to have her child healed)–all who are on the “outside” of the norm of society, God tends to give extra attention to those who have been left out. Even Jesus comes to the people as an underdog–not one of the religious elite, not of the wealthy and political powerful such as the Herod’s, but a carpenter’s son, who comes teaching and preaching and calling out fisherman to follow him, not kings and Pharisees and businessman (except for Levi, the tax collector, but even he was despised and outcast among his own people), and Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, not on a white horse. Jesus is the ultimate underdog, and God calls him the Messiah, His Son.
The passage from the Prophet Isaiah in chapter 55 speaks the response of creation to God’s new life given to all. The seasons turn in cycle and every spring new life comes forth, overcoming the darkness and cold of winter. God’s deliverance, revival and promise of new life are seen in our very earth. We know of the rainbow as a sign of God’s covenant to never again destroy the earth; the signs of life, the trees and the flowers, the grass renewed by the rains–all of creation is a sign of God’s promise of new life. Revelation speaks in the last two chapters of a new heaven and a new earth–the promise of new life–and it is seen every year, all around us, a sign of the promise of God that all things will be made new, always.
Psalm 65 echoes this promise of God and the newness of creation that we can witness all around us. The connections between Isaiah 55 and Psalm 65 are easily observed, but what strikes me are the sounds of creation–that the trees of the field shall clap their hands in Isaiah, and the valleys shout for joy in Psalm 65. Sounds that we do not always hear or pay attention to–the great rustle of the breeze in the leaves, the clapping of hands; the whistle of the wind over the valley, the songs of joy. Our worship experiences often take place indoors, inside a church building or home, where the noise of the outside world is shut out. Truly we find sirens and car horns and the revving of engines distractions, but what else have we lost?
I am reminded of my summer camp years in Kodiak, Alaska, at Camp Woody. I am reminded of the chapel services at Lower Inspiration Point, a small peninsula into Canoe Lake, and along the trail to the point, the sign “Be Still and Know that I Am God” (Psalm 46:10) marked the place where you were no longer allowed to talk. You had to be quiet the rest of the way down to the old dried-out log pews, where a rough wooden cross stood in front. I remember being down there for chapel, and at times by myself, and hearing the cries of the eagles that soared above and nested in the trees nearby. I remember hearing the sounds of squirrels chattering and the soft lap of the lake’s water along the edge, and not far off, the louder roar of the sea crashing against our little island. The seas were creating their own hymns, the eagles calling out for a response, and the little squirrels chatting away about the living Scripture they could see all around–life in abundance.
Psalm 119:105-112 speaks to the promises of God for deliverance, remembering God’s word as a lamp upon our feet and a light for our way. When God’s word is written in our hearts–when we remember the promises and covenants of God–we are set on right paths, and we will have no fear of evil.
Matthew’s Gospel lesson in chapter 13 speaks again to nature in the Parable of the Sower. The two parts we read today are the parable itself, and then an interpretation of that parable. Many scholars debate that the interpretation was probably added later, because Jesus does not offer an interpretation of any other parable; however, this is also the first parable that Jesus tells and perhaps this one time he did offer an explanation. I remember being asked at church camp (the very same camp I mentioned above) “what kind of soil are you?” This is one way to look at this parable–how do you nurture the seeds of the kingdom or reign of God in you? Do you allow it to be choked out, or do you tend to the message of Christ? Do you hear the word and then turn away, not nurturing the faith within you, and dry up and wither? But I always thought it was weird to ask “what kind of soil are you?” because soil has no choice in how it is. The gardener has the choice of where to plant and how to care for the soil, but the soil has no choice, neither do the seeds. If we are all gardeners, made in the image of The Gardener, the Creator, then it is up to us to care for all the seeds. Perhaps we should be looking out for those that seem to have rooted in thorns and in the rocks and along the path. Perhaps we need to be looking out for those who have a harder time, for those who seem stuck where they are without water and light. Perhaps our job is to care for each other, and help each other grow in the reign of God, for we are made in God’s image, yet we are human beings. We are the gardener and the seed. Or maybe I’m stretching the metaphor too far!
Romans 8:1-11 continues the course through Romans the lectionary has been leading us, but also into this theme of new and renewed life. Paul declares there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. While Paul has been speaking of the dichotomy of the flesh vs. the spirit, he changes this view somewhat in this passage in that now, in vs. 11, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. It is no longer a dichotomy of flesh/body=bad, earthly, and soul/spirit=good, heavenly–Christ erases that distinction! Our bodies, our lives, are a gift from God, and through Christ, we are made whole again–our whole self, body and soul intertwined, are given new life! Sometimes we forget our basic Christian theology, in the bodily resurrection of Christ. We tend to go the way of the ancient Greeks and think that only our souls go to heaven or hell, that our body is just a shell. This gives way to hatred of the body, hatred of anything earthly and despising ourselves. But Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that we are given new, heavenly bodies–but this happens when we turn to Christ. When we repent and turn to Christ, our whole lives, our whole selves are made new. There is no condemnation in Christ–we are set free! Our body is part of us. Our body is good. So we need to make the distinction that when Paul talks about “living according to the flesh,” he is speaking of people before they know Christ, who make decisions influenced by earthly pleasures and cares. “Living according to the Spirit” does not leave behind the body, but life in the Spirit is holistic, healthy, and includes our whole selves.
Creation and new life, turning the world, the ways of the flesh, upside down to the life in the Spirit–where the outcast, the poor, the young, the oppressed–are brought forth to lead and to challenge–these themes are intertwined in the Scriptures this week. Take a moment and enjoy the sunshine if you can, or open a window for the breeze, and listen to the mighty chorus of nature clap their hands for God’s way, where all who are left out by the world are brought in and welcomed!
Call to Worship (adapted from Psalm 104):
Leader: O God, how majestic are your works!
People: In Wisdom God created the world!
Leader: The earth is full of God’s creatures.
People: May the Glory of the Lord endure throughout the earth.
Leader: Let us sing…
People: Along with the birds of the air and the creatures of the sea
Leader: Let us worship…
People: With the deer in the forests and the trees of the field
Leader: Let us worship our God of all creation!
People: Let us sing praises to the Creator!
Prayer of Confession:
Loving God, we confess that we have turned away from Your love and Your ways. We follow the ways of the world, ways of greed and envy, pride and consumption. We have forgotten the beauty of the earth and the beauty of humanity. We turn away from relationships towards work we find pressing or issues we find demanding our attention. We forget Your ways of love and compassion, forgiveness and understanding. We forget Your call for justice and reconciliation and instead seek fairness only for ourselves. Forgive us, O God, for so quickly forgetting how much You love us, how You sent Your Son for us, and the commandments of Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves. Forgive us, renew us and restore us, O God. In the name of Christ Jesus we pray. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon (from Psalm 27:13):
We can be sure that we shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Hold firm and trust in the Lord. Know that you have been forgiven, and that you are set once again on the path of God. Amen.
Holy One, You called us into being out of Your love for all of creation. You create in us new life, and give us new hearts for seeking Your ways of justice, peace and reconciliation. Even though we still sin, Loving God, You give us the opportunity to journey again with You. You forgive us and renew us. In all of creation we see signs of Your promise of new life. Help us to turn away from the ways of the world, ways we have created to get ahead, to have more, to do more for ourselves, and instead remember that You created us in Your image, to be caretakers for the earth and to be Your children, Your family. Help us to seek reconciliation with those we are estranged from, forgiveness from those we have hurt, and justice for those we have failed to speak out for. In the name of Christ, who gives us the promise of New Life through his life, death and resurrection, we pray. Amen.
There is a great song “The Trees of the Field” which is a wonderful way to sing the verses of Isaiah. Another song that comes to mind is the Taize song “I am sure I shall see the goodness of the Lord.” Songs of creation, healing and restoration are all appropriate this day.