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Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 14:19-31 or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 or Genesis 50:15-21; Psalm 103:1-13 or Psalm 114; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35
Narrative Lectionary: Call of Abraham, Genesis 12:1-9 (Matthew 28:19-20)
The first passage of Exodus recalls the parting of the Red Sea and the Hebrew people walking on dry land. God saves the people from slavery and saves them from the pursuit of their enemies, a story they will tell and retell and sing about for ages to come. The impossible has become the possible, the impassible the passible.
The second passage from Exodus is the song from Moses following the crossing of the Red Sea, and the celebration by Miriam and the women who sing and play tambourines. There is celebration that death did not have a hold on them, that the victory is a new chance at life with God, a new start in which there is no Pharaoh over them or chains around their necks, but God is their God, the one who delivers and protects them. God is a God who is active in their lives and their world, working for their freedom.
The third alternative for the Hebrew Scripture reading steps back a few generations, with Joseph and his family in Egypt, when there was peace between them and Pharaoh and the people looked up to him. This portion of Genesis 50 focuses on Joseph’s act of forgiveness. He does not hold a grudge, or demand punishment. Rather, Joseph delights that they have all been restored—that his brothers have repented, but that he also has been restored to them and to his father. Joseph also looks to God and sees how God has worked through the years, always working for restoration and reconciliation, and he follows the way of God rather than seeking punishment and retribution.
Psalm 103:1-13 asks God to bless the people. The singer sings of what God has done for Moses and the people in the past, and that God seeks justice for the oppressed. But God has not punished the people for their own sins, but has forgiven them. God seeks restoration, not punishment, for those who turn to God. God is like a parent who loves their children.
Psalm 114 also recalls the people leaving Egypt, but in this psalm even creation trembles at the presence of God, which is why the sea rolled back and the river Jordan turned away—and the people crossed on dry land. Even the whole earth is aware of God’s presence, especially when God is among the people. God not only parts the Red Sea and the Jordan, but God also provides for the people when there is nothing, making water flow from rocks. God provides a way when no way is present.
Romans 14:1-12 reminds the readers that sometimes we get caught up in the little things: the traditions of our worship, the customs we have developed—the day we worship, what we eat, how we do things—and that what matters is if we do it to give glory to God, to draw closer to God. Do we do those things just because we’ve always done them? Do we practice what we’ve been taught because it was what we were taught? If it gives glory to God, then we should not worry when others do things differently than us.
Matthew 18:21-35 contains a parable about forgiveness, and that we need to forgive as we have been forgiven. Jesus does not say this is easy—when Peter asks how many times to forgive someone, Jesus challenges him to forgive even more—an impossible amount. But we need to remember that we also have done wrong. We need to be clear this is not a blanket forgiveness statement—the parable speaks about those who do not forgive for the same offenses they have been forgiven by others. We are not perfect. We have faults and shortcomings, and when we cannot see ourselves in others, we cannot forgive, nor can we receive forgiveness.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Call of Abraham and Sarah (Abram and Sarai). God calls them in their old age to leave behind everything they have known and go to a new land, to not look back but to look forward to a future with hope. God promises them offspring and that they will be given the land God is leading them to. It seems impossible, but God promises that it will happen.
Matthew 28:19-20 is often called the Great Commission, and Jesus calls us to go out and share the good news, but also to remember that Christ is with us until the end of the age. We do not go it alone. God does not call us to go out alone, without help, without support, without encouragement. God calls us, nurtures us, supports us—even when it isn’t easy—but we know we are not alone.
God makes the impossible possible, the impassible passible. The challenges that seem too great to overcome—differences in how we worship or fellowship to forgiving others—God makes possible and passible. God forgives us even when we cannot forgive others, and through God’s forgiveness we find the strength to forgive others, to recognize our own humanity, our own shortcomings, and know that God still loves us. God calls us into impossible situations, but does not leave us alone. God will see us through.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 139:7-12)
Where can we go from God’s spirit? Where can we flee from God’s presence?
There is no place we can go where God cannot find us.
If we stray so far from God’s path we cannot find our way back,
Even there, God’s hand shall lead us and keep us safe.
Even if darkness covers us and we can see no light,
The night is as bright as day, for God is the light of the world.
Come, let us worship our God,
Let us follow Jesus our Savior, who leads us into light. Amen.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God Almighty, we confess that we put up walls and barriers. We refuse to forgive though others have forgiven us. We refuse to help though we have been helped. We see the speck in the eyes of others and fail to see the log in our own. We are stubborn. We want things our way, and cannot see outside of the box that there may be other ways. Forgive our shortcomings, our short-sightedness, and when we become stumbling blocks for others. Call us into Your way, to see ourselves in others, to put ourselves in their shoes, to love others as we love ourselves, as You have loved us. In the name of Christ, who calls us to repent, to turn back to God, and seek forgiveness, we pray. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance of Pardon
Great is God’s faithfulness. God makes a path when none was there before. God leads us back when we are hopelessly loss. God makes room for us when we have walked away, time and again. There is always room for us at the table of Christ, and Christ is calling your name. You are forgiven, you are loved, you are restored to Christ. Amen.
Creator of Beauty, Designer of Life, we pray that we might seek Your intention for us—to see the beauty in the world You have created, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to seek You as our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Guide us in ways that help us fulfil Your intention for us to have life and have it abundantly, to share in Your love, to care for Your creation, to serve You. May we find Your intention in the world around us, in our hearts, and live out Your intention in the ways we care for and serve others. In the name of Christ, who fully lives out God’s intention for us to love one another, we pray. Amen.