Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 29:15-28; 1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Psalm 119:129-36; Psalm 128
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52; Romans 8:26-39

Our Genesis saga continues the story of Jacob, who is deceived into marrying the older daughter of Laban, Leah, even though he was in love with the younger daughter, Rachel. In our continuing “soap opera” of the family of Abraham and Sarah, we are once again reminded that God chooses those that we would not; God chooses the underdog, the forgotten, the outcast, the lost. Though the love story will follow Rachel more closely as she tragically dies in childbirth, and Jacob’s love for her sons is greater than for his other children, Leah plays an important role not only in Hebrew history, but the line of Jesus’ lineage is through Leah’s son Judah. Just as Hagar seemed not important to the story of the family of Abraham and Sarah, God chooses, and blesses, the ones that we with our human eyes would judge inferior or unworthy. The Hebrew ancestors’s stories remind us that while some may be chosen by the world to have their story followed and retold, God chooses all who follow the ways of love, peace and justice. There are so many side-tangents and stories in the Hebrew Bible of people who seem to not matter, who seem to not count, yet to God, their story is greatly important. And we would be wise to remember those whose story remains untold in the Bible–sisters and daughters and mothers who remain unnamed.

1 Kings 3:5-12 chronicles Solomon’s desire for wisdom above all riches and power in the world. Solomon who inherited the throne from David is making a different choice than the kings before him, and the kings after him, though he still will fall as the others did, falling away from faith in God. Solomon and David both had the kind of relationship with God that was a model for the people’s relationship with Israel. Solomon and his father David basically took the place of the people in their relationship with God. They were examples of how the people ought to follow God. Solomon trusted God and sought God’s wisdom above everything else. As we know, both kings were not perfect, as humanity is not perfect, and so when both kings fell and turned away from God, so did the people. Solomon’s prayer is a reminder of what we should desire above all else–wisdom to discern right from wrong, good from evil, wisdom to follow God’s ways above the ways of the world. At the time of the compilation of the historical books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, the Torah laws were being rediscovered in the temple after being lost. Many scholars call the editor of this compilation the Deuteronomist, who compiled the Torah and historical books and added notes and edited the stories to show what happens when the people follow God, and when they turn away from God. Both David and Solomon become examples for the people of what happens when they are faithful, and when they are not.

There are three choices from the Psalms today: 105:1-11, 45b (45b is just the line “Praise the Lord!” to close the reading) is a psalm of thanksgiving to the God of our ancestors, the God who judges all of the earth and remembers the covenant with Jacob, as we are to remember the great deeds of God through our ancestors (portions of this reading will come up again on August 7th). Psalm 119:129-136 is a call to God not only to deliver the people from oppression, but also to keep the people faithful to God’s commandments, a reminder of our part of the covenant. Psalm 128 is a psalm of blessing upon the faithful family that follows the Lord, a blessing upon our descendants. All of the psalms remind us of the covenant of God with us, that we are to follow God, and God is to remember and deliver us.

The lessons from Matthew are the short parables about the Kingdom, or reign of God. We carry the seeds of God’s reign with us, but it is up to us to plant those seeds, nurture those seeds and help grow the reign of God in our world, in our lifetime, in our now. It doesn’t take much to bring much change, but it is worth all the gold in the world to do our part in building the reign of God.

Living in southern Oklahoma, I often hear that people are waiting for the kingdom of heaven after they die. There is a lot of emphasis on being saved now so you can go to heaven. There doesn’t seem to be much emphasis on building the reign of God here on earth, yet Jesus explicitly says the kingdom of God is at hand or has come near in the Gospels. We pray all the time, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are all praying for God’s kingdom to come and to be part of the kingdom-building here on earth. Yet sometimes we sift out the message and bring it down to such a simple “you must be saved” message that we have forgotten the people suffering in our world now, the people in need now, and the ways Jesus lived in the world when he walked this earth: eating with sinners and tax collectors, healing the sick, bringing good news to the poor, forgiving sins–this is the work of God, this is what we are called to do. When we start looking out for our own interests, and are only concerned with being saved, we have completely lost sight of the reign of God.

Romans 8:26-39 reminds us that there is nothing outside of God’s power, and no one outside of God’s love. We are so quick as human beings to judge and condemn–and I have to remind myself that at times I can be quick to judge those I perceive to be judging! It is God who is the ultimate judge, but also God who is the ultimate redeemer, therefore there is no condemnation in Christ. We need to constantly remember that we are all children of God. We are all loved. We are all forgiven who seek forgiveness. We are all given the same hope in Christ for the resurrection, and all are given the same commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. There is no one outside of God’s love–Jew or Gentile, male or female, gay or straight, black or white, child or adult, prisoner or citizen–no one can be separated from the love of God found in Christ Jesus. Our mission is to share this good news, to share with others how much God loves them, and not to water it down or put conditions on it, for it is unconditional love for all.

Again, we need to remember that God works through all of us. Some of our stories are told famously, some are told as sidenotes, and some of our stories are not told at all, but God loves us all. God works through all of our stories and God blesses us all. We need to seek the wisdom of God, that kind of wisdom that Solomon sought, beyond human understanding, to where we see just how much God loves the world, so much that he sent us Jesus, not to condemn but to save (John 3:17).

Call to Worship:
Leader: Come, you that are sick, come seek healing!
People: We have entered the reign of God.
Leader: Come, you that are oppressed, come and find freedom!
People: We are participating in the reign of God.
Leader: Come, you that are outcast, come and find welcome!
People: We are building the reign of God.
Leader: Come, you that are full of sin, come and seek forgiveness!
People: We are forgiven; we are restored; we are all brothers and sisters in the reign of God!
Leader: Come, let us all worship our God.

Prayer of Confession:
Great Physician, we come to You in need of healing. We confess that we are hurt when we harm a brother or sister. We confess that we are sick when we fail to seek aid for those suffering from HIV/AIDS and other diseases that we can relieve or even cure. We confess that we are imprisoned when we forget the oppressed and the unjustly incarcerated. We confess that we are spiritually famished when we ignore the needs of the hungry and impoverished. Forgive us, O God, for our short-sightedness and our failure to see our well-being is connected to the well-being of our brothers and sisters in the world. Forgive us, and call us back to Your way of love, justice and peace. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
Gentle Spirit, move in us, stir in us the remembrance of Your covenant. We know that there is nothing that can separate us from Your love. Restore us to each other and to You, and help us to follow Your commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. In the name of Christ, our Redeemer and Friend, we pray. Amen.

Ancient of Days, You guided our ancestors, wandering Arameans, across the desert into a homeland You prepared for them. You called our ancestors out of slavery into freedom. You promised our ancestors a future with hope. You gave the world Your Son, Jesus the Messiah, who taught us a new way to live in the world by loving You foremost and loving our neighbors as ourselves. You have written our story, O God, before we drew breath. You have called us into this world to share the story of Your love with those who do not know it, who have not experienced it. Help us to share Your love with the world, with our neighbors, with those in need of knowing Your grace and forgiveness, Your healing and hope. Call us out of our comfort zone to share our story of Your love with the world. In the name of Christ, the Living Word, the Author of our Life, we pray. Amen.

Music suggestions:

“There Is A Balm In Gilead” comes to mind with the words of the prayers above.  “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” also calls forth the image of the God of our ancestors, and “They’ll Know we are Christians by our Love,” compliments the Romans passage.

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