Revised Common Lectionary: Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 15 or Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23; James 1:17-27

In the first thread for the Hebrew Scriptures of the Revised Common Lectionary, we have completed the story of the rise and fall of David, ending with the fulfillment of the promise of the completion of the temple construction. Now as we enter September, we dive into the Wisdom Literature, of which we had hints of the previous weeks in the lectionary, as we shift from story to song, prose to verse.

This passage from Song of Solomon is a familiar passage at many weddings, as it is a wedding song of two lovers. For our brothers and sisters in the Southern Hemisphere, this passage comes as the winter is ending, and therefore is seasonally appropriate. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this is often the time when we head back to school, the busy-ness of life seems to pick up after long lazy days. We are reminded that in God there is always newness, springtime, something new bursting forth out of the old. Arise, and come away. While life picks up around us, remember that we can leave the busy-ness behind and return to the quiet beauty found in God, through prayer, silent reflection, meditation, and even at times, physically getting away from it all. God gives us the gift of Sabbath rest, and we rarely take it when we should. This passage is a reminder from God’s Wisdom that it is wise for us to take time and enjoy life.

In our second Old Testament thread for the lectionary, we have been reminded of God’s faithfulness through the stories of the prophets. Today, we are reminded in Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 that we are also required to be faithful to God. We live by example to others, and we teach by example. If we are called to live in the ways of love and justice, when we hate others and when we gain by privilege over those who are marginalized and oppressed, we are not witnesses of God’s grace. We do not model the love of God that was modeled to us by God through the prophets and ancestors, and as Christians, modeled perfectly in the life of Christ. The law and commandments are not rules to follow, but a way of life to live. We do not want to be legalistic in our interpretation and following of the law, but rather be led by the Spirit to live a life in relationship with Christ, which calls us to live out the law and commandments in our own lives.

Psalm 15 challenges us to this walk of faith as described in Deuteronomy. It is a song calling believers to integrity, to stand by what they say and promise, to do what they say they will do, to live into God’s ways of justice. When we live this way, we are faithful to God, and God’s faithfulness is made known to us.

Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 is a wedding song, paired with the passage from Song of Songs. On days of weddings and celebrations, and even at funerals and memorials, celebrations of life–we remember and give thanks to God. God loves a good celebration, where people are full of joy—indeed, we remember Jesus went to the wedding at Cana! But God desires righteousness and justice, and we must remember our rejoicing should not cause others to suffer. We might consider how we celebrate—do we use catering companies that provide livable wages to their workers? Are we conscious of how much waste we produce? Our celebration as a whole should be pleasing to God.

In the Gospels, we turn back to Mark after our long discourse in John. Mark and James are paired for the next several weeks and complement each other on how we ought to live out our faith. Mark 7 begins with Jesus being challenged by the Pharisees and scribes for how his disciples have behaved. They have not all washed their hands. In those days, the washing of hands was for a purification ritual, not for hygiene. The washing of hands was to purify themselves against what was unclean, specifically in this case, food that might have been handled by Gentiles. The leaders were more concerned with people following the literal letter of the law, the traditions that they held, rather than the spirit of the law, which was to honor God in all that they did and said. Their tradition justified the keeping out of the Gentiles as well as the poor and those they would call “sinners”—people who could not afford the rituals of purification in the temple. Jesus tore down the walls that would divide the “pure” from the unclean, the sinners, the Gentiles, the Others—and declared that what comes out of the mouth—what we say that hurts and harms, that divides and separates—this is what is really sinful, what is unclean, what is against God’s ways.

Here’s the real catch: Jesus clearly interprets scripture in a non-literal way. What was written in the law of Moses of cleanliness codes was taken literally by many of the Jewish religious leaders of his day and Jesus does not interpret it literally. Jesus is more concerned about how Scripture was used to create rules and traditions that kept others out, not about the letter of the law. We need to be careful when we make literal claims of Scripture, because Jesus, and later Paul, also interpreted Scripture in ways that were inclusive instead of exclusive, and we ought to do the same. It is about honoring God and living God’s way in our lives, and not about keeping others out. We need to be concerned with how we are living out the Good News, and how we are welcoming and inviting others, instead of concern about how others are behaving.

James 1:17-27 reiterates this theme: it is about what we do more than what we say, but what we say has the power to harm others if we are not careful. Our actions need to be in alignment with our words and values (an aside: that is something I teach at my retreats for churches) and we need to be careful that what we say does not keep someone from understanding God’s love. Our actions should speak louder than our words and live out God’s commandments to care for those in need and love others. St. Francis of Assissi has been quoted as saying, “Speak the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” Our lives ought to follow that.

In all things and at all times, our lives should praise God. In all things and at all times, our lives should model to others the love of God. In all things and at all times, our words should build up the reign of God, and not harm others. We are called to tear down the walls of division, not to judge others. We are called to care for the poor, the widows, the orphans, the marginalized, the oppressed—not to condemn or curse or justify ourselves. And when we bring ourselves into alignment—our words, actions and beliefs/values, we find ourselves living more authentically as Christians and followers of God’s way, and living more filling lives. We give value to ourselves and to others when we live authentically as followers of Jesus the Christ.

Call to Worship:
Leader: In the darkness of despair, depression and loneliness,
People: We are called to bring light to the world.
Leader: In the darkness of poverty, hunger, and homelessness,
People: We are called to bring light to the world.
Leader: In the darkness of oppression, injustice and marginalization,
People: We are called to bring light to the world.
Leader: In the faint hope of dawn, when it seems foolish to believe,
People: We are called to be the light in the world.
All: Come, let us live with Christ’s light, and be the light we wish to see in the world. Let us worship together.

Prayer of Confession:
Almighty God, we confess our brokenness to You. We confess that we have been hurt, we have been betrayed, we have been denied by others. We come to You seeking healing and reconciliation. Forgive us, O God, when we have denied others, betrayed others, and have hurt others with our words and careless actions. Forgive us, O God, when we have kept out those who needed to be welcomed, when we have rejected those who were in need of embracing. Call us back to Your ways of love, justice and reconciliation. In the name of Christ, our living Hope, we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
We know there is no limit to God’s love and grace and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. The challenge is for us to live as forgiven people, to claim this truth and live it out in the world. Let us go forth, sharing the spirit of forgiveness and embracing the outcast, knowing that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Amen and Amen.

Jesus our Friend and Redeemer, we come to You this morning ready for a new day. As we begin to turn in the cultural season from summer to school, as things begin to become busy and our daily schedules filled, remind us to pause and give thanks to You. Remind us to take in the beauty of the world around us and to give thanks for the people You have brought into our lives. Call upon us to call upon others, to not forget our friendships and family and to cherish our time together. Guide us away from the busy-ness of the outside world and into the peaceful rhythms of daily life. Renew in us Your guiding Wisdom, that we do not have to be all things to all people, that we do not have to do it all, for You have lived and died for us and You live again for us. Keep us to the promises of new life here and now on earth, and help us to share this gift of life with others. In the name of Jesus, who went alone to pray, who even fell asleep in the midst of the storm—may we live into Christ’s example. Amen.

One Response to Worship Resources for Sunday, September 2nd—Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

  1. I just love your call. It is true, especially this week as we wonder if we are about to repeat the experience and devestation brought on by Hurricane Katrina. I am in despair remembering the days leading up to and following that occurance and I wonder how we will all feel on Sunday; will we be relieved if it isn’t as bad or will we be alarmed at what years of neglect to our environment and our structural integrity of our poorer areas in our country or will we be numb? No matter, your call allows the feelings to be recognized. Thanks!

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