I’ve been blogging on the lectionary for a year now! Happy Anniversary!

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 1:8-2:10; Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 124; Psalm 138;
Matthew 16:13-20; Romans 12:1-8

If Genesis 12-50 can be called “The Abrahamic Soap Opera” then Exodus begins the spinoff series of Moses and the descendants of Israel. Generations later, after Joseph and his brothers have long passed on and all of their children’s children’s children have had more children and grandchildren–they are now known as the Israelites–are now seen as foreign invaders living off of the land, rather than the guests of Pharaoh. The family of Jacob is now their own people, their own ethnic group, their own nationality. The relationships and stories of why these two peoples, the Egyptians and the Israelites, lived together has been lost. The greater arc of immigration stories is played out–the people living in the land have become uneasy with the immigrants who are now greater in number and seem more powerful, so the way to balance their uneasiness is to oppress them. We see this story played out time and again in our own American history.

In the immigration debates of recent years, there are some striking points of parallel elements of modern American immigration and the story of the Israelite immigrants in Egypt thousands of years ago. As lawmakers have recently debated (before the economy once again tipped other issues off the table) whether or not children born of immigrants should be US citizens, even though the Constitution calls for it, so Pharaoh tried to clamp down on the children of these immigrant Israelites. He went to much more drastic measure, calling for the death of all boys born to Israelite women, but still, the revoking of rights from children of immigrants, revoking their rights to education, access to affordable health care and nutrition, can lead to death.

It is the Hebrew midwives who manage to find the “loophole” to save the Hebrews, including the baby boy Moses. I personally know medical professionals who have looked for loopholes for poor families to stay longer in hospitals when they need the care, to find ways of getting through red tape of insurance paperwork when they lack coverage.

The lessons we should learn from the beginning of Exodus is to not forget our relationships, to not forget our beginnings the way the Israelites and the Egyptians had, the way Pharaoh had forgotten. We need to remember that our country is an immigrant country (except for the Native Americans who were here long before, who have had no choice but to accept immigration). We need to remember that certain policies around immigration and health care can harm the least of these–the children. And we also need to remember, as we will learn in the story of Moses, that God does hear the cry of the poor, the cry of the immigrant, the cry of the oppressed–and will answer. How do we respond ourselves? Are we like the citizens of Egypt, benefiting off of the labor of the other, or are we like the midwives, and Miriam, the sister of Moses, doing our part to help the lost and least?

Isaiah 51:1-6 speaks of the comfort of God to the people, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, who have been oppressed and enslaved, who have been conquered and forced into exile, that God will deliver them, that God knows what they have been through and that God is with them, comforting them, and bringing hope. God will restore what has been lost, and bring blessings upon the people again.

Psalm 124 speaks again to the deliverance of God from the hand of the enemy. Psalm 124 is a hymn, singing to the blessings of God and praise for God who has brought them out of oppression and captivity. Psalm 138 is also a hymn, but a hymn of the universal power of God, who is the Lord of the earth, God above other gods. This psalm speaks to the deliverance of God to the point that other kings are turning away from their nation’s gods to worship the Lord.

Matthew 16:13-20 is the first half of a two-part story of an interaction between Jesus and Peter. In this part, Jesus asks the disciples who do the people say that he is, and they list off the various suggestions of others–John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. But when Jesus asked “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replies matter-of-factly: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter’s declaration of faith pronounces that the revelation of Jesus to the world has begun–Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and Jesus is recognized as such. The birth of the church, while we often celebrate on Pentecost, actually takes place in this moment, with the declaration of the revelation of God by another human being–not by the voice of God, as at Jesus’ baptism, but by Simon “The Rock” Peter, who has understood God’s revelation through Jesus the Christ, and on his declaration will the church be built: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. But then Jesus sternly orders them not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah. Usually in the Gospels, when someone or a group is told not to tell anyone something, it gets told to everyone. Whether this is because Jesus knew gossip would spread like wildfire rather than a public declaration, or because Jesus did not want the world to know this until the time of the cross, is still a mystery. Now the second half of this story will be in the following week, in which it appears that Peter does not get at all what he just declared–and maybe that’s why Jesus didn’t want them going and spreading it around yet, because Jesus knew they did not fully understand. But we don’t know for sure.

Romans 12:1-8 is the beginning of the second part of Paul’s letter to the Romans, speaking specifically how followers of Christ ought to live in community with one another–to not be conformed to the ways of the world but instead transformed by God. To be the body of Christ, members one of another. To remember that our whole lives are part of worship–how we live our lives in community with each other is how we treat our individual body, and vice versa. We are interconnected. There is interdependence in the body of Christ. Our relationships with each other and how we live our lives are of utmost importance as followers of Christ.

Romans is a letter that is often taken out of context and quoted to prove various moral codes and creeds. I remember memorizing Romans 3:23 at church camp: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I remember hearing that sin came into the world because Adam sinned and that we were all born in sin based on an out-of-context understanding of chapter 5. We know that this concept was not present in the Old Testament and not in Judaism whatsoever. We know that sin is real and present in this world but our focus too often is on individual sin based on the idea that certain rules are broken when one sins, rather than how relationships are broken and distorted by sin, which seems more in context of the entire Bible rather than a few out of context verses. Romans 12:1-8 brings all of those previous passages into context: sin is about what we do to break relationship with ourselves, God and others. When we treat ourselves poorly, we treat the body of Christ poorly; and when we treat the body of Christ poorly, we treat Christ the same. This tri-relational nature of ourselves, others and God is further emphasized by Jesus when he says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40).

How we live in community is fundamental to our lives as Christians. It is the very foundation, the rock that we stand on, because how we follow Christ, the son of the Living God, is how we live in community with each other. We do well to remember our history, our Scriptures, and the relationships of the past and present, as we build our future together as Christians. I believe that a movement in American Christianity is shifting, away from the individualistic faith that was watered down so simply to fit on a four-page tract, to a fuller Gospel message–one of the body of Christ, based in Scripture, of which we are all members, one of another. As we become more and more separated as people, needing less direct connection in our daily lives and work with the advent of technology, so we need more than ever closeness and relationship and community in Christ–so that we will not be conformed to this world, but to the body of Christ.

Call to Worship:
Leader: Welcome to the church family!
People: Welcome to all cultures and ethnicities, languages and locations!
Leader: Welcome to the church family!
People: Welcome to all abilities and ages, young and old and in-between!
Leader: Welcome to the church family!
People: Welcome to single people and couples, grandparents and aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, friends!
Leader: Welcome to the church family!
People: Welcome to all people of different sexual orientations and genders, all people made in God’s image!
Leader: Welcome to the church family!
People: Welcome to everyone who is seeking relationship with Christ by being in relationship with each other.
Leader: Come, let us worship as God’s family!

Prayer of Confession:
Mother and Father, Creator of us all, we confess that at times we have not been Your family. We confess that we have cast out those who are different than us. We have built up walls of separation based on the lines of gender and sexual orientation; we have placed roadblocks for those of different economic status and abilities; we have on occasion told people they were too old or too young for us. We have turned our backs on people of different political and theological views, believing we cannot be in relationship with the other. Forgive us, O God, for not seeking Your reign on earth, for not participating in Your family. Forgive us when we neglect, ignore, and forget our brothers and sisters in our world. In the name of Christ, the Son of the Living God, we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
We are the family of God. We cannot be cast out, we cannot be lost, we cannot be forgotten, because God includes us, God seeks us, and God remembers us. There is no one who cannot be part of the family of God, for Christ lived, died, and lives again, for all of us. Share the Good News. Amen.

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty. You knit us together in our mother’s womb, making each of us unique, different, and separate from each other, yet united as Your family, Your body here on earth. Help us to live fuller into Your body, members of one another, by drawing closer to each other in this time and space of worship, and deeper in our daily lives after we leave this place. The story of Your relationship with us is written into the words of Scripture and written upon our hearts. Help us to remember and relearn the old, old story, that we might live more wholly as Your body, Your family here on earth. In the name of Christ, the one who welcomes us on this journey of faith, we pray. Amen.

Other ideas:
If you use images in worship or study, images of families from around the world and all types of families would be appropriate. Think about your community and the many different kinds of families present. For mission and social justice, consider what your congregation can do towards the famine in Somalia through your organizational or denominational partnerships, how your congregation can be part of the body of Christ, the family of God in reaching out. Consider also how the conversation of immigration is going in your community–how might your congregation invite dialogue and mutual learning from the immigrant population in your area?

Music ideas: “We are the family of God” is an old favorite that I think would work great for this Sunday–any music on the theme of family.

3 Responses to Worship resources for August 21 2011

  1. Bruce Sweet says:

    I’m sorry it has taken me a whole year to find your site. I have posted a hyperlink to you at my site: http://www.socialjusticelectionary.com

    You might also be interested in http://www.socialjusticecommunaldance.webs.com

    Thanks for your ministry.

  2. Rev. Mindi Rev. Mindi says:

    Thanks Bruce! I will add your link to my list as well!
    Blessings, Mindi

  3. Nancy Phipps says:

    I recently found you and am so glad I did. I enjoy your thoughts and try to make sure I get here every week now. Thank you so much for sharing with all of us. Hope you have a marvelous weekend. Blessings, Nancy

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