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Revised Common Lectionary: Joshua 3:7-17 or Micah 3:5-12; Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 or Psalm 43
Matthew 23:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Throughout this season after Pentecost we have been following the great stories of the early ancestors of the faith: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and his brother Esau, Jacob and his wives and children, then into Egypt and the story of Moses, Aaron and Miriam and the people into the wilderness out of Egypt; and last week, we began reading of the generation that entered the Holy Land, the generation of Joshua. In a scene reminiscent of Moses and the people crossing the Red Sea with the aid of God, now the ark of the covenant resides with the people, and as they cross the Jordan river, the waters part, ending the time in the wilderness, marking the end of the era of wandering. Water marks the boundaries of land ownership and governance, in ancient times as well as today. From Exodus to Joshua, water marks the boundary of the time of the wilderness, from leaving Egypt and being enslaved, to entering their new homeland, free. Water marked the entrance into the wilderness, in which at the beginning they still did not know the ways of God, to the entrance into their new homeland, where the ark of the covenant is with them, along with the knowledge of the commandments and ordinances of God including the Ten Commandments.
In this season after Pentecost, we moved from the story of a great family–Abraham through Joseph–to the story of a wandering people led by Moses–to a story of a newly settled people in Joshua and Judges (we will read from Judges in a few weeks), a people in need of a king–and we are preparing for Reign of Christ Sunday and Advent, in which we prepare for the coming reign of Christ.
Micah 3:5-12 is an oracle against the prophets that would lead the people astray, who just tell the people what they want to hear. The prophets in Micah’s day that did not heed God were the ones who, when they were satisfied, thought that everything was all right, but when they went without, there must be someone to blame. Micah, among other prophets, was concerned with the plight of the poor and the lower classes in contrast to the wealthy elite who spent their wealth worshiping other gods instead of being concerned about the poor among them. It is hard not to draw parallels between Micah’s time and our current political world, where it feels at times that people are only concerned with their wealth, with their gains, and not the gains of others–and that it must be the faults of others when they do not have the success they once had, and meantime, the poor continue to suffer. And yet these rulers, priests and prophets still declare that the Lord is with them (vs. 11). There is danger, Micah warns, in looking only to your own interests, in trying to gain the support of the people by telling them what they want to hear and persuading them to follow what you think–to cry out peace when you are satisfied and war when you are not (vs. 5).
Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 sings of the memories of wandering in the desert and of being provided water by God to drink, of finding renewal and newness of life. Water marks the end of suffering and striving–being refreshed and renewed for a new journey. Psalm 43 parallels with the passage from Micah, with the psalmist crying out against injustice and the people who have followed the prophets that just say what the crowds want to hear. The psalmist cries out for justice and deliverance, for truth and light in a time of darkness and injustice.
Matthew 23:1-12 is the beginning of Jesus’ wrap-up of his time in the temple. He has been questioned by all the various groups present in the temple, those trying to trap him, and now Jesus tells all who are listening, the crowds as well as his disciples, to continue to follow the teachings of their faith as the scribes and the Pharisees teach, but not to do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach (vs. 3). Jesus reminds them that they have one teacher, one Father, one leader–the Messiah–and that they are called to live in humility. The Pharisees and scribes and priests have missed the mark–they are more concerned with their outward appearance in society and culture than they are as priests who should be ministering to the poor, rabbis who should be teaching the lost and least, scribes who should be bringing the word of God’s love to all people–they have missed the point in living out their faith.
As Christians, it is all too easy for us to see “judgment” as something that happens to other people. “God will judge those who don’t believe.” “We are saved and others are not.” As Christians, we need to recognize that Jesus’ words are for us. We are the ones being judged by our faith as Christians. Are we just paying lip-service–are we more concerned with “being” a Christian than “doing” the Christian faith? Are we passing judgement on others instead of loving and caring for our neighbors in need? Jesus’ words are not for those on the outside, but those on the inside–we are called to live as faithful people by doing the faithful thing–loving our neighbor as ourselves, humbling ourselves to be one with the people in need around us, not using Christianity as a way to be better than others, which all too often is what happens in the name of our faith.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 continues Paul’s description of how Paul and Company witnessed and modeled the faith–by being humble, by being honest, by caring and encouraging like a father with his children. Paul’s encouragement is a continuation of how to be humble followers of Christ, that it is about how you live out your faith that is important.
As we prepare for Reign of Christ Sunday, as we draw closer to the end of this season, we are called into living into Christ’s reign here on earth. We are reminded of Jesus’ teachings to live in humility, to “do” our faith, and we are reminded by Paul to be encouragers of others by modeling our faith in the way we live with others. We are reminded by the prophets of the dangers of looking to our own gain and success and being concerned about our image, as the leaders in Jesus’ day were, rather than living our faith by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. It is never too late to renew our journey with God–if we have gone off track, if we have become more concerned with our public image rather than being concerned with the poor, remember the waters of our baptism, the waters of the Red Sea and the River Jordan–there is always time to begin again, to mark a new journey, to cross another boundary.
All Saints Day is November 1st. Some may choose to observe All Saints Day this Sunday or the first Sunday in November. I have included a litany for All Saints Day that can be used either day.
All Saints Day Litany:
Leader: We remember the great ancestors of our faith, from Abraham and Sarah, to Paul and Phoebe:
People: Ancestors of the faith, we remember you.
Leader: We remember the prophets and priests, the ministers and teachers who have taught us the way of God:
People: Teachers of the faith, we remember you.
Leader: We remember our grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, those who have gone before us in our lifetime:
People: Family of our faith, we remember you.
Leader: We lift up the memories of children and grandchildren, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives and parents whose lives ended too soon:
People: Those close in our heart, we remember you.
Leader: We lift up to You, O God, the names of those we have lost in this past year from our lives, knowing that they are with Your heart forever. As we read these names, we will pause after every name to remember, pray, and give thanks for their life.
Reading of the names of those who have died in the past year
Leader: We celebrate the lives of those we have named, O God, and lift up many more names in our hearts.
People: Family of God, we remember you, and we honor you. We know you are with us in the spirit of worship, and you will not be forgotten.
Leader: We give thanks O God for all who have gone on to join with You beyond this life. We trust in the hope of resurrection and the promise of new life in Christ, and know that in our grief and celebration, O God, You are with us through it all, and we are not left alone. In the name of Christ, in whom love lives forever, we pray.
Call to Worship:
Leader: When we pass through the waters,
People: God is there with us.
Leader: When we suffer and feel hopeless,
People: God is there with us.
Leader: When we are joyful and celebratory,
People: God is there with us.
Leader: Whether we feel triumphant or defeated,
People: God is there with us, always.
Leader: Come, let us worship together with Emmanuel, God with us.
Prayer of Confession:
Almighty God, we confess that we have turned away from Your ways and follow the ways of the world. We want others to like us, to look up to us, and so we put down others and ignore the cries of those who are suffering. We look to our own interests, our own success and fortune, and not the well-being of the poor and the hungry. We even go as far at times to believe You must be with us and not with others, that You are on our side. Forgive us, O God, for not being on Your side, for not looking to the ones Christ ate with and ministered to: the sick and the poor, the widowed and the orphaned, the marginalized and the oppressed. Forgive us, and help us to be humble, for You are the One we ought to look up to, not to ourselves. In the name of Christ, who calls us to seek out the lost and the least, we pray. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon:
God loves all of us. Period. God loves every one of us. Period. There is nothing you can do to change that. God loves you. Know it. Accept it. Live with it. Live it out. Amen.
Holy Jesus, call us into the newness of life. Turn us away from the fleeting desires of the world to know the fullness of Your love. Teach us the commandments in our hearts so that we might love our neighbors as ourselves and love You more fully. Help us to know that Your covenant is written on our hearts, that we all can know You and know Your ways. Grant in us the longing to be in communion with You, to deepen and widen our relationship with You in our daily lives and in our relationships with others. Grant us Your peace in our life, so that we might live in peace with others. In the name of Christ, who teaches us Your way, we pray. Amen.
Release Date: October 8th, 2019