Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Kings 8:1-11, 22-30, 41-43 or Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22 or Psalm 84; John 6:56-69; Ephesians 6:10-20

Last week we moved from David to Solomon in the first Old Testament series for this season. This passage gives us snippets of the dedication of the temple by Solomon, a reminder of God’s presence on earth, yet Solomon acknowledges that God is beyond any one place on heaven or on earth. The lectionary also includes a blessing for those who are outside of the scope of Israel—that others can come and know God, for the temple is a witness on earth of God’s presence to all. Solomon acknowledges that God is beyond any one place or any one people.

The second Old Testament selection is a familiar passage from Joshua, gathering the people together before he died, reminding them of what God has done for them and that they have a choice in who they will serve, the God who has been faithful to them, or the traditional gods of their ancestors. The gods of their ancestors were often idols, gods present in works of clay and stone, gods stationary to certain physical landmarks and locations. God of Israel was the God of the people, who was present wherever they were. Remembering God’s faithfulness, the people declare that they choose the Lord their God. However, we know that the faithfulness of the people is a faith continually lacking; they will turn away from the ways of justice and righteousness to the ways of greed and lust in the world—they will forsake God for the gods surrounding them. But when the people are reminded of God’s faithfulness, in that moment they choose the God present among them.

Psalm 34:15-22 ends this three-week reading of Psalm 34, reminding the listeners that those who are faithful to God, God will be faithful to them. Even in times of adversity and great difficulty, God will continue to be steadfast.

Psalm 84 is a song of praise to God, remembering that worship happens not only in the temple but in all of creation, including the sparrows when they find their nest. The temple is the home of worship for the people of Israel, but we today can sing this song wherever we find God and feel at home, knowing that God is beyond time or place, and God is the Creator of the whole earth and universe.

John 6:56-69 finishes the overlapping series in John’s Gospel on the bread of life. I erroneously stated last week that last week’s reading was the conclusion (that’s what I get for skipping ahead a week in the lectionary!) Instead, we hear the disciple’s response, after Jesus has angered other listeners. The disciples know Jesus is the way of life, but they don’t know what to do with it or how to help others understand. Jesus’ way of life is not about earthly success or securing a place in a heavenly kingdom, but rather giving up all personal glory for the glory of God, for the way of Christ, to love one another and lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Many of Jesus’ disciples turned away, and we know that others, even though they remained with Jesus, still did not accept this teaching. They wanted earthly fame, an earthly king and rewards. They wanted seats at the right and left hand of Jesus in the heavenly kingdom. They did not understand that to follow Jesus, one gives up these things, these rewards, and becomes last of all, servant of all, losing themselves in Christ and Christ’s way of life that leads to eternal life.

Ephesians 6:10-20 concludes the series from Ephesians with the familiar passage of the Armor of God. The armor of God is metaphorical, for the way of God does not encounter evil through violence but overcomes evil with faithfulness. In the church tradition this has been called spiritual warfare, but it is clear that this metaphor does not prepare us for battle, but rather prepares us to be faithful, to be bold, confident in Christ, and to be prepared. It has often been noted that the only “offense weapon” in this list of armor is the Sword of the Spirit, the word of God. As we know, the Scriptures, the Word in the New Testament days was still the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament as we know it. It is the story of history and tradition and faithfulness and wisdom of God. But it is not to be used as a weapon, but rather to guide us, to divide truth from falsehood, to trust God and reject the world. We stand in the shoes of the gospel of peace, and so we walk in the ways of peace, not war. Scripture is to be used to help discern truth through experience, not to harm or destroy.

God is present in the community of believers, not in the mountains or the valleys or heaven or earth—God is present among us. We look not to the mountains, as Psalm 121 states, but we trust in God working in us and among us. We know that God is faithful even in times of doubt and trial. And we know that the way of God is the way to God—the way to eternal life is The Way. It is about how we live our lives for Christ and for others, not for our own gain, for when we seek our own gain, we lose. When we seek to save our lives, to find eternal life, we lose it, but when we seek to live for others, we find our own lives. We cannot be focused on our own mortality if we wish to follow Jesus. For the way of Jesus is the way to the cross, to die to live, to put to death the things that tie us to an earthly life—sin—and to live in Christ’s love.

Call to Worship (first lines an adaptation of Psalm 121:1)
Leader: I lift my eyes up to the mountains, from where does my help come?
People: My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Leader: We look not to the mountains or valleys, even heaven or earth,
People: For God is found among us.
Leader: Wherever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name,
People: God is here among us.
Leader: Come, let us worship the God of Creation, the God of People, the God of Community.
People: Let us follow Jesus, for Jesus is The Way. Let us worship together in faith.

Prayer of Confession
Holy God, we confess that we have mistaken You for the world. We come to worship You in a building when You are present in the community, within and beyond these walls. We come to seek eternal life for our own sake instead of seeking Your ways of compassion and justice for the sake of the world. We love our lives too much that we are unwilling to risk, and we allow oppression and marginalization to continue because we don’t want to get involved. Forgive us, God, for seeking our own salvation instead of desiring to follow You into the world. Forgive us, God, for not living for others and looking to save ourselves. Turn us back to You, make our desire Your desire, and help us to follow You to the cross and beyond. In the name of Christ, who emptied himself on the cross for us, we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon
There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. There is nothing we can do that will keep us from God. We are a forgiven people. The chains of guilt and shame have been broken and we are free, free to go and share the Good News. Amen.

Author of Salvation, write in us a new story. Erase the sins of the past and create a new narrative, one in which we seek Your love and justice in this world. Write a new direction for our lives, away from the busy-ness and cares of the world for success and stability, and instead plot us towards ways of living Your compassion, care and grace in the world. Create new opportunities for us, O God, to explore and live this adventure of life in bold and daring ways, in which new insights may unfold for us. Grant us the fullness of life by living for others, as You taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but most of all, may our story be about You, about Your love for us, and what Your love for us calls us to do. In the name of Christ, who writes the new ending and beginning, we pray. Amen.

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