Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 3:8-15 or 1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15; Psalm 130 or Psalm 138; Mark 3:20-35; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

We enter this season after Pentecost, after Trinity Sunday, in which (at least in the mainstream Protestant tradition) there are no special days until Reign of Christ Sunday just before Advent. We begin this time with the story of the man and the woman hiding from God in the garden. The man explains his shame, his hiding by scapegoating the woman, who in turn explains herself by scapegoating the serpent, and the serpent is punished by God. As part of the curse of the serpent, humanity is separated from relationship with the creatures of creation. No longer will human beings and animals live in harmony; there will be predators and prey, a need to defend oneself against the wild creatures of the world. We often read this passage and recall humanity’s fall, but there is a sense that the model of harmony in the garden is disrupted among the rest of God’s creatures as well. This harmony is symbolically seen again upon the ark in the story of the flood, where miraculously somehow the animals don’t eat each other or the human beings who are caring for them. We are reminded that God’s intention for creation was harmony between man and woman, between human beings and God, and between humanity and the rest of creation; but through our greed and desire, we have distorted God’s intention, and it is God who must reconcile us through Christ.

The other choice for the Old Testament readings this year follows the historical books, beginning with 1 Samuel 8 and 11, telling the story of the anointing of Israel’s first king, Saul, by the prophet Samuel. It was the people who cried out to Samuel to ask God for a king, someone to rule over them in an earthly kingdom. God desired for the people to live in relationship with God as their King, their Sovereign; but they wanted to be like other nations, having a king they could see, an earthly king who would protect them; but earthly kings rise and fall and are not always just and good rulers. They are as human as anyone else, and can lead the people astray. God knew this would happen, but the people wanted an earthly king, and Saul was chosen.

Psalm 130 is a song of hope in God, having patience in God’s deliverance. We may have sinned, but God forgives, and God will save, as long as we hold on to hope.

Psalm 138 is a psalm of thanksgiving to God for God’s faithfulness. There is no fear when we know God is with us. God is the God of all people, of all nations, and all who draw near to God will feel God draw near to them.

Mark 3:20-35 tells of Jesus’ homecoming after he called his first disciples and the reception he received. People had begun to talk about Jesus and were spreading some rumors and tales, including that Jesus was possessed by Beelzebul. Jesus’ own family wants to bring him home and stop this “madness,” this “nonsense,” of Jesus’ ministry and healing and preaching, but Jesus declares that Satan can not cast out Satan; therefore Jesus, who is doing good works, cannot be possessed by a demon, for what he is doing is the complete opposite of what demonic forces would do. Demonic forces would destroy, bring pain and anguish and despair; Jesus brings restoration, healing, joy and hope. When Jesus’ family calls out to him and the crowd informs Jesus of this, Jesus reminds them that whoever does the will of God is Jesus’ family–for we are all children of God, we are all Christ’s brothers and sisters, when we do the work of God, bringing healing, hope and restoration to the world by sharing God’s love.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 proclaims that we live by faith, not by sight. What can be seen is temporary–what we have made, what we have done–but what cannot be seen, God’s intention for us, is eternal. We must hold on to hope and know that God will restore us, God will reconcile us, and God will heal us. Everything we experience on this earth is temporary, but what we cannot see, cannot perceive, cannot fully understand is eternal–that God’s love endures forever.

When we look back upon the creation story, we recognize the story of God’s intention: a world created in relationship with God, a world in which human beings are in relationship with creation and with each other. In Genesis 3 that relationship is distorted by human beings; but we see glimpses of God’s intention breaking through all throughout Scripture. We see it in the story of the flood and the ark and the rainbow; we see it in the Psalms; we see it in Revelation. We see places where humanity continues to insist on their own way, one in which people are scapegoated and leaders are given too much power over people, where people who do not make good leaders are made into kings and the poor are oppressed. And when God’s intention begins to break through, as in Jesus’ ministry, we still resist. We want our own way. We want to have and others to not have–because we believe we have worked harder, we have earned it. We fail to see that God’s intention is not rivalry but relationship. We fail to see that God’s intention is not survival but harmony. We fail to see that God’s intention is not being right, but doing right. We fail to see that God’s intention is not insiders and outsiders, but all of humanity as God’s children, brothers and sisters of each other. This is what God’s intention is for humanity and the world, what God’s desire is for us: that we be part of Christ’s family.

Call to Worship:
Leader: We wait for the Lord.
People: We strive to restore balance with creation, reminding ourselves of God’s call upon us to be good stewards of the earth.
Leader: We wait for the Lord.
People: We work in the ways of justice, to bring up the lowly and restore the poor.
Leader: We wait for the Lord.
People: We reach out to those in need, reminded we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Leader: We wait for the Lord.
People: We pray for wisdom and guidance to walk the ways of Christ and to remember God’s call on our lives.
All: We wait for the Lord while we participate in the reign of God here on earth, through our work for social justice, our stewardship of the earth and love of our neighbors. We trust and hope in God in this time of worship.

Prayer of Confession:
Almighty God, we confess that we have been short-sighted. We have forgotten Your ways and held on to the ways of earthly success and desire. We have looked only to the gains of this lifetime for us instead of seeing Your eternal love for the world. Forgive us for our narrow-mindedness. Call us into awareness of our brothers and sisters in the world, as well as all of creation. Call us into awareness of Your intentions for us and the world, that You brought forth when You called forth light out of darkness. In the name of Jesus, who shines in the darkness, we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon (from 2 Corinthians 4:16, 18):
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. Because we look at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. Amen.

Glorious God, we give You thanks for the seasons, for warmth and cold, sun and rain. We give You thanks in times of hope and fear, in times of frustration and calm, in times of unbalance and peace. We know that You are always present with us. When we fall into times of doubt, draw us out, O Lord. When we stumble into times of despair from the unjust world around us, lift us up, O Lord. When we see injustice around us and we feel hopeless, strengthen us and give us courage, O Lord. We are called to do Your work in our world; grant us Your wisdom, fill us with Your hope and stir in us Your desire to build up the family of God. In the name of our Creator, Christ and Spirit that fills us, we pray. Amen.

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