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Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 or Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 20 or Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; Mark 4:26-34; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17
During the season after Pentecost there are two Old Testament choices from the Lectionary. The first thread this year follows the story of the great kings of Israel and Judah, beginning with Saul, and today, the story of how David was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel. As throughout the Bible, God chooses the unlikely, the least, the youngest and smallest of seven brothers, to be the new king. He is not a warrior by trade (though he will become a cunning warrior in the stories told about him) but rather a shepherd, out with the animals, smelly and dirty–but he is also described as ruddy and handsome, with beautiful eyes. It is easy to assume we are meant to fall in love with David, we want him to succeed, we cheer him on, we celebrate with him, and we grieve when he falls short. In many ways, David is probably so likeable because we can all see a little of ourselves in him, and all hope for something great from him, but at the same time, he stumbles and fails. He is not perfect. But God does not choose perfect people. God chooses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
Ezekiel 17:22-24 describes God’s reign like a tree, a sprig of cedar plucked up and replanted upon the top of a mountain. God is doing something new, replanting twigs, so that they may grow into new trees, budding leaves and bearing fruit. The high trees are brought low and the low trees raised high–God is leveling things out, making things as they should be, where all have an equal chance to grow and bear fruit and flourish. This is God’s desire for creation, and throughout Scripture, God is constantly doing something new, which is to re-create the way things ought to have been.
Psalm 20 is a prayer and assurance of blessing, that God will provide and God will answer prayers as long as people put their trust in God. Instead of trusting in human constructs such as armies and chariots, we are to put our trust in God, to praise God, and to know God will be with us.
Psalm 92 echoes back to the Ezekiel passage of the cedar growing in Lebanon. We are to sing and make music to praise God, for we are created by God to be creative, and to use our creative gifts to praise God and further God’s work in the world. God is doing something new, and that new thing is really going back to the garden, to God’s created intention for all of us, which is to use our creative gifts to further God’s love and work in the world, and that instead of competing with each other, we ought to grow and live together, like trees planted in the garden of God.
Mark 4:26-34 begins a series of parables by Jesus. Both have to do with growth from a seed. We must remember that a parable is a story to illustrate a point but it does not mean every part of it has a literal interpretation. In the first parable, which is not found in any other Gospel, it appears that the sower is a bit careless with his harvest. The seeds are scattered, but the sower has no idea how they are growing or what is making them grow, but when the time comes, when the grain is ripe, the sower turns into the harvester, reaping the grain. While a literal interpretation would presume that God, the sower, has no idea how any of us are growing or why, most of us assume that God has a more active interest in our lives. Yet God does allow us to grow on this earth, interacting with this world, and does not pull us out of danger or harm, or shield us from mistakes. But the kingdom or reign of God is built and created out of all of us. We do not know how each of us will grow, but we know we grow based on our experiences here on earth, and grow beyond our earthly experience. How we grow, and grow together, helps determine how and when we will be harvested, gathered together with God.
2 Corinthians 5:6-17 speaks to the tension of participating in the body of Christ, and yet yearning to be home with God. Paul speaks to the dichotomy of the body here on earth and being with God beyond this life, and that this barrier that divides the two, death, is broken open by Christ. Everything has become new, the old has passed away, and the new creation is born out of death. We live for Christ; therefore, we live for others and not for ourselves. We do not live in Christ to put ourselves first, to make ourselves look good, but rather to build up others.
God is doing something new, which is the new thing God began in creation. God is bringing the high down low and lifting up the low to be high. God is creating us anew, in a way in which we grow and live together in a way that honors God and each other, and not ourselves. The reign of God is built when we live for each other, building each other up, doing Christ’s work here on earth. The reign of God is built when we recognize that death does not have a hold on us, and that life is worth living when we live for others, not for ourselves. Everything old dies, but in Christ, everything becomes new, and life surpasses death.
Call to Worship:
Leader: Like a gardener pruning the vine,
People: So God is at work in us, pruning so that we might bud and bear fruit.
Leader: Like a gardener clipping branches and planting the sprigs,
People: So God is at work in us, creating new out of the old.
Leader: Like a gardener harvesting the first fruits of the season,
People: So God is preparing us to grow, to bear fruit, and to be the gathered body of Christ.
All: Come, let us worship our God, who planted the garden of creation and plants in us the seeds of new life.
Prayer of Confession:
God of the Seedtime and Harvest, God who plants and sows, we confess that we have not lived into our created potential. We have focused on ourselves instead of the wholeness of humanity and creation. We have been concerned about our own growth instead of understanding the needs of those around us and around the world. We have failed to see that life grows beyond death and have been solely focused on our desires in this world, on life now. Forgive us for our short-sightedness. Forgive us for not participating in the fullness of Your created world, and forgive us for not understanding our role as stewards of Your harvest. In the name of Christ, who prunes the vine so that we might bear fruit, we pray. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon (from 2 Corinthians 5:17-18):
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. You are reconciled to God. You are forgiven. You are loved. Amen.
Author of Life, You have written our story into the fabric of creation. Help us to tell our story as part of Your saga, recognizing our role in this world, knowing life goes beyond death. Call us into sharing in Your story by guiding us to help others find their part. Help us to welcome and grow the body of Christ to include diverse voices in our stories, that we might weave our story into the greater tale of life, begun at the dawn of creation. Open our ears to listen to strangers, to those on the margins and those who are different than us. Open our hearts to embrace their stories and to be the voice of the voiceless. May we recognize our role, and the roles of others, that we all are participants in Your reign, and that You have written our names into the book of Life, where all our stories matter. We pray that we may embrace and learn from each other. In the name of Jesus, the Author of Salvation, we pray. Amen.
Release Date: October 8th, 2019