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Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 28:10-19a; Isaiah 44:6-8; (alternative reading Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19)
Psalm 86:11-17; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Romans 8: 12-25
The Genesis story continues, moving from the story of Jacob obtaining Esau’s birthright to Jacob’s dream of the ladder to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it. This dream sets forth the plan for Jacob’s life–he has already fled his homeland to go to the family of his mother because he tricked his father to get Esau’s blessing. But instead of being a fugitive from his family, God’s plan is for Jacob to become the ancestor of a great nation. From this moment, Jacob recognizes that there is a plan greater than the ones he has hatched for his own gain–that God is using the circumstances of Jacob’s life to create a community of faith, a family for God. One of the things I love about the Old Testament is that in Christian life we can sometimes get too caught up in the idea of personal relationship with God through Jesus; we can forget that God is also the God of the family, God of the community, and God of the people–therefore God of the world. Jacob’s family becomes a great nation, a nation that shows the world this God of the people–not of places, as the ancient gods were worshiped, but a God of the people themselves. This is the birth not only of monotheism in the world, but the birth of the idea that God was with the people wherever they went–God was with them.
The few verses of Isaiah in today’s lesson echo the theme of the Genesis passage–God is the first and the last, there is no other God and there is no one like God. And a theme echoed by Jesus appears: do not fear. Whenever Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, he proclaimed, “Peace be with you; do not be afraid.” In this proclamation to Israel, we read these ancient words through the prophet Isaiah of God to the people: “Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses!” (44:8a). It reminds me of when Jesus explained to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus how he had been present in all the Scriptures and the prophets. We know through our history, through our experience and through our scriptures that God is with us, that there is no one like God, and that we need not be afraid, but know that God is near.
Psalm 86:11-17 is a prayer to God for deliverance when facing persecution, remembering that God is our God, the one who delivers us, and that we are God’s servants. The psalmist pleas for a sign from God to show others of God’s favor. Isn’t this something we all do at some point–pray that God would show those who are our enemies, those who disagree with us, that we are right and they are wrong? I have a hunch they may pray the same thing. I love the Psalms because they are very human petitions to God. But the psalmist also asks for strength to be God’s servant, and gives thanks to God for being there for them, and begins by asking God to teach them God’s way and gives thanks to God for deliverance.
Psalm 139 is another human plea to God for deliverance, but begins with quiet contemplation on the wonder of God as the creator–not just of humanity, but of each of us as individuals. It is a turn inward from the theme of the God of the people to the God of each of us. It is a reminder that we are interconnected, as the community of God and in our personal relationship with God. Towards the end, the plea again turns to being delivered from one’s enemies, but trusts that God knows our heart, our true desires and our thoughts. For there is no where we can flee from God’s presence or spirit, and there is nothing we can do that can separate us from God’s love and care.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 is the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat, and the explanation. Last week I mentioned that Jesus rarely gave an explanation for the parable–and this parable and explanation are only found in Matthew. This parable has been used in the past to explain predestination, the idea that some of us were predestined for heaven or for hell, but this simplistic explanation has been rejected by many scholars. Instead, the parable seems to tell us to be slow to judge others–for some may appear to be weeds but could be wheat, and vice versa–we may be quick to judge others and not look at our own lives–are we living consistently with Jesus’ teachings, or do we just give lip service to how Christ has called us to live? Are we wheat, ripe at the harvest, having lived the full life that Christ has called us to live in service to others, or are we weeds, claiming to be Christians but really just taking up space, never offering to help a neighbor in need, refusing to forgive and love, neglecting the teachings of Jesus?
Romans 8:12-25 is a continuation of the theme of living by the Spirit, a life that is whole in Christ, a life in which we give ourselves over to the love of God found in Jesus. We reject the life the world offers–a life of worldly success and fortune–and turn to the life of the Spirit, in which our whole lives are aligned with the teachings of Jesus, to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We remember through our scriptures the ancient story of God’s people–how individuals came to recognize God in the world and in their individual lives, and began to tell God’s story to their families, and how that story became the story of God of the People, God of Israel, and through the stories of God’s relationship with Israel, the story was told of God, the Creator of the World, and through Jesus Christ, the story turned to of God’s love for the whole world, for all of us.
Call to Worship (based on Isaiah 44):
Leader: God is the first and the last; there is no other God.
People: Do not fear, or be afraid; We are God’s witnesses!
Leader: Is there any God besides our Creator?
People: There is no other rock; we know no one like God.
Leader: We are called to tell the story.
People: Proclaim the Good News to the World! Tell the story of God!
Leader: Come, let us worship our God and tell our story of Christ!
Prayer of Confession:
Author of Salvation, we come to You confessing that we have not done our part to tell Your story. We have neglected to share our stories of forgiveness as we have failed to forgive others. We have forgotten to tell the Good News of how we were freed by Christ by forgetting to seek freedom for the oppressed. We have skipped over the story of our reconciliation to Christ by ignoring the cries of the outcast. Forgive our sins, Lord, that keep us from relationship with others and relationship with You. Call us back to Your story of freedom and love, redemption and reconciliation, by our faithful actions in this world, so that we may continue to tell Your story. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon (based on Psalm 139):
Where can we go from God’s Spirit? Where can we flee from God’s presence? If we take the wings of the morning, and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there God’s hand shall lead us, God’s hand shall hold us fast. For the darkness is as light to God. Where we see limitations, God sees great expectations. We are renewed and restored. Go and share the Good News. Amen.
Ancient of Days, we give You thanks for our story found in Scripture: the story that began when Your Spirit swept over the waters of the depths before the earth was made, when Your Spirit was breathed into the first human being. Your story continued when you called Abraham and Sarah, and through their family You called us into relationship with You, personally and collectively. You became our God, and we have been given the opportunity to have relationship with You through Jesus Christ and through the community of faith, the family You have given us on earth. Stir in us the spirit to share Your story with the world, the story of reconciliation and love, hope and redemption for all. We thank You for the part You have given us in Your story. Help us to live our lives fully in the ways You have imagined for us, that we might live out Your love in the world and invite others into Your story. In the name of Jesus, the living Word, who was in the beginning with God and shall be there at our end, we pray all things. Amen.
Obviously, “I Love to Tell the Story” would be appropriate with the theme I have laid out. Another song that comes to mind is from the Iona community “Bless the Lord; there is no other God.” For fun, a song to open worship might be the old favorite “Father Abraham,” as we continue the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis.
Release Date: October 8th, 2019