Worship Resource for October 22, 2023—Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 33:12-23 and Psalm 99; Isaiah 45:1-7 and Psalm 96:1-9 (10-13); 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Narrative Lectionary: David Anointed King, 2 Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5; Psalm 150 (Mark 11:8-10)

In the first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures, we have followed the ancestors of our faith from a family to a nation. In last week’s selection, the people of Israel came to Aaron demanding that he make gods for them because Moses was gone for too long, and God became angry with the people, threatening to destroy them and make a nation out of Moses until Moses interceded. At the beginning of chapter 33, God has decided not to destroy the people, but will no longer go with them to the land promised them. I wrote in Judson’s Journeys for October 22 the following about this passage, where Moses tries to convince God that these are indeed God’s people:

There’s sort of a humorous understanding to this exchange, sort of like a child with an adult. Moses still tried to get God to be with the people, to be fully present, but God keeps distance. God dodges most of Moses’s questions and responding with answers that are not fully satisfying to the demanding and inquisitive Moses. Moses continually asks, “Have I found favor in your sight?” Is there anything Moses has done wrong so far? God knows Moses followed everything God said. Even intervening on behalf of the people was the right thing to do, because they are God’s people, and God cannot abandon them. How will God’s people know who God is, and how will the world know that these people are God’s people, unless God journeys with them?

What we experience in these verses is Moses’s perseverance and insistence that God is the God of the people, and that he was called by this same God at the burning bush to deliver the people from their oppression in Egypt. Nonetheless, we also experience God as one who cannot be manipulated or fit into the mold of humanity. God will be gracious to those whom God desires to be and show mercy to those God desires to show mercy (33:19). God will not do what Moses wants simply because Moses wants it. However, God will pass by, because God knows this is the best way for Moses to trust and understand. God remains sovereign (and part of God’s sovereignty is that we humans cannot comprehend all of God) and in close relationship with Moses.

Psalm 99 is a song that praises God as the one who reigns over God’s faithful people. God is the one who loves justice and establishes equity, and the psalmist calls upon the people to worship God. The song lifts up Moses and Aaron as God’s priests, along with Samuel, as those who called upon God and God answered. God held them accountable for when they went wrong, but also forgave them. The psalmist concludes with another call to worship God, for God is holy.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Isaiah 45:1-7. This portion of Second Isaiah speaks of Cyrus, the Persian emperor, who’s coming into power made possible the return of the exiles from Babylon. However, Isaiah makes it clear through God’s voice that it is God who has prepared the way, who had led Cyrus by the hand, and no other gods. It is God who directs the steps, who leads the people.

Psalm 96:1-9 is a call to worship praising God for all of God’s wonderful deeds. God is not only above other gods, but all other gods are idols—only the same God of the faithful people made the heavens and earth. The psalmist gives liturgical instructions in calling the people to worship God and to bring their offering as they enter the courts of the temple, and all the earth shall tremble in response. In verses 10-13, the psalmist reminds the people that God is sovereign over all nations, and God judges with equity. The psalmist continues this great call to worship by calling all of creation to join in, for God will judge the people and the earth with truth and justice.

The Epistle reading turns to its final series this season after Pentecost in 1 Thessalonians, which many scholars believe is one of the earliest letters of Paul (it may be the earliest we have in our Bible). We begin with the introduction in 1:1-10, of Paul and his companions, Silvanus and Timothy, writing to the church in Thessalonica. Paul gives thanks for the church’s faithfulness, because they not only received the Gospel by word, but the Holy Spirit has been manifest in the church’s reputation. In spite of being persecuted, they became an example to all believers in neighboring regions. Word has made it back to Paul that the Thessalonians turned from idols and have served God faithfully, while waiting for Jesus to return.

The Gospel lesson takes a break from the parables of Jesus and turns instead to a time when some of those opposed to Jesus tried to trap him with a series of questions. In Matthew 22:15-22, some of the Pharisees got together with some of the Herodians—two groups that would normally be opposed—and asked Jesus about whether it was lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not. If Jesus said no, the Herodians, the family of Herod that was in power as a puppet government under the Roman Empire, would have proof that Jesus was a political revolutionary. If Jesus said yes, it would make the crowds upset with him. Instead, Jesus offers another way, to give what belongs to the Emperor and to give what belongs to God—recognizing that if everything comes from God, this question should not matter, for God is the ultimate authority.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the story of David anointed as king over Israel. In 2 Samuel 5:1-5 David, thirty years old at the time, was anointed king over all the tribes at Hebron. Though Saul had been their king, the leaders of the tribes had looked to David as their war hero who brought them victory. In 6:1-5, the ark of the covenant was brough to Jerusalem, signifying David as not only the war king but God’s anointed king, as David recaptured the ark from the Philistines.

Psalm 150 is a song of praise to God, calling all the people to praise God in the sanctuary, for all God’s mighty acts, and with all instruments and dance. Every living thing is called to praise the Lord.

The supplementary verses of Mark 11:8-10 contain the praise of the people when Jesus entered Jerusalem. The people spread their clothes along with cut branches on the road before Jesus and called out “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” quoting Psalm 118, a song of praise before entering the temple, and also shouting, “Blessing on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David,” a longing for the restoration of David’s throne while under the oppression of the Roman Empire.

We human beings are fickle. We try to make our own way instead of fully trusting in God’s ways. Paul praised the church in Thessalonica for, despite persecution, they had remained faithful, and the word of their faithfulness had spread to other churches. Jesus tried to show those questioning him, along with the crowds that were curious as to who Jesus was or what he was about, that the key was looking to God as sovereign over all. When we look to God’s ways and live into them, the questions about how we ought to live become clear: do what we can to bring about God’s beloved community, and not get caught up in the rest of it. Isaiah reminded the people that even if their liberation came from another worldly power, it was still God at work because God is always involved in the liberation of the people. The good things of this world always come from God, whether it be the resources we share as communities from paying taxes for things like schools, libraries, roads and fire departments, or whether it be a voice from another land that leads the way for justice. Moses reminds us that it is okay to argue with God, too.

When we lament why God isn’t more noticeably at work around us, God’s presence will be made known. We can trust in God and lament. Right now, in our desperate, violent world, we must cry out. The horrific violence experienced in Israel and Gaza calls for our collective lament. It calls for us to ask why, God, and where are You? It calls for us to demand justice and pray and work for peace. It calls us to not dismiss our neighbor. It calls us to look to the pain of people marginalized for different reasons, and how we can respond not from our pain but from the collective grief, and cling to any shred of hope that somehow, God will hear us, but maybe even more importantly, that we will hear each other.

Call to Worship (Psalm 96:1-4)
O sing to the LORD a new song;
Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless God’s name;
Tell of God’s salvation from day to day.
Declare God’s glory among the nations,
God’s marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
God is to be revered above all idols of the world.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Lord, Lord! We cry out to You, confessing that we have given into the ways of this world. We have allowed anger to fester into rage, distrust into hate, hopelessness into utter despair. We have given up on others. We have dehumanized those we do not understand and rationalized violence. We remember the prophet Habakkuk, who lamented the violence he witnessed, and still believed there was time for a vision, time enough to write something down, however, brief, that a runner could read it. There is still time for a vision of hope, O God. Something small that can change the world. If we can love one another, see one another as Your beloved children. If we can hear the cries of Your children’s prayers. If we can believe there must be something more for the children of today, we can live into hope for their tomorrow. Lord, Lord! Hear our prayers. Hear our laments. Hear our calls for justice. In the name of Christ, who called out from the cross asking why You had forsaken him, we pray, knowing Your answer is life. Your answer is hope. Your answer is love. Amen and Amen.

When Moses asked God how he could know if he had found favor in God’s sight, God responded in Exodus 33:17, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” God knows us by name. God knows our hearts. God knows how they break from the pain of the world, and how they can break open for each other. Allow your heart to be broken open by God, to God, and to God’s people, who are all created in God’s image that live upon this one planet we share. God will do the very thing we ask if we see one another as God’s children. God will restore us, forgive us, heal us, and set us out to share the good news of God’s love. In Jesus’s name, go in peace. Amen.

God of compassion and mercy, it is far too easy to give up, and even easier to fake it until we might make it. Help us not hold on to false hopes, fake cheeriness, cheesy-Jesus-joy that makes other people sick to their stomach. Help us to find that true joy in You, that we are made by You for love in this world. Help us to trust in You so that we do not give up in the pursuit of justice, in the practice of mercy, in our love for one another. We know in the end, only love has saved us, and only love will lead us forward. Help us to love. Call us to love. Guide us in Your ways of love, that also hold us accountable when we have gone wrong, to do the work of reparation and restoration in this world. Amen.

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