Worship Resources for August 13, 2023—Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 and Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; 1 Kings 19:9-18 and Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

Narrative Lectionary: Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry, Song of Solomon 2:10-13, 8:6-7 (Mark 8:35-37)

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures has followed our ancestors of the faith, from Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham, down to the fourth generation with Jacob’s sons and the story of Joseph. Jacob had Joseph and Benjamin when he was older, and so Joseph was considered the favored one and his older brothers hated him. The lectionary skips over the verses containing Joseph’s dreams, which made the brothers despise him even more because Joseph dreamed of his family bowing before him. When Jacob sent Joseph off to find his brothers one day, the brothers plotted to kill him, but the eldest, Reuben, persuaded the brothers to simply toss Joseph in a pit, with a plan to rescue him later. However, once he was thrown in the pit, Judah got the idea to sell him to the Ishmaelites, who were traveling to Egypt. Thus, Joseph was trafficked into Egypt by his own brothers.

Psalm 105 is a song of praise for all God has done through the ancestors of God’s people. Verses 1-6 call the people into worship and praise, remembering what God has done for them, especially as children of Abraham and Jacob. In verses 16-22, the psalmist recalls the Joseph story as one where Joseph was sent ahead of his brothers to Egypt in order to save everyone from famine. Joseph, who had been imprisoned, was raised up by Pharaoh and put in charge of everything to save the people. The psalmist concludes with a word of praise.

In the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures, the prophet Elijah had been on the run from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. In the previous verses, he was so weary he wanted to die, but an angel from God made him get up and eat twice so that he had the strength to continue on his journey. In 1 Kings 19:9-18, Elijah complained to God that there was no one left in Israel faithful to God, that they had all turned away from God. Elijah seemed to have forgotten that in the previous chapter Obadiah, Ahab’s servant in charge of the palace, remained faithful to God, to the point of hiding 100 prophets loyal to God in two caves with bread and water. So Elijah was not the only one—but he certainly felt like it. Elijah felt that no one was left, so God told Elijah that God would draw near to him. However, God was not present in the ways that ancient deities were often made known. God was not present in the wind, earthquake, or fire—but only in the silence. Not in the forces of destruction, not in the assurance of answers, but in the quietness. That’s when Elijah wrapped his face (because in the ancient world the belief was if you saw the face of God, you would not live) and stood at the entrance to the cave. There, Elijah spoke with God, and even though he repeated again his belief he was the only one left, God showed him he was not. There were others in Israel who had not bowed to the other gods. While Elijah’s work was not yet finished, God showed him there would be new kings and even a new prophet. The distress, discomfort and depression he felt would not last forever. Elijah would receive help, and relief.

Psalm 85 is a song of God’s faithfulness even though the people have gone astray. In verses 8-13, the psalmist concludes that for those who are faithful, for those who remain in awe, God will bring all good things together. Poetically, the psalmist imagines steadfast love and faithfulness embracing, righteousness and peace greeting each other in a kiss. Faithfulness springs up from the ground while righteousness reaches down from the sky. God draws forth everything together in goodness and leads the people in the way of peace and righteousness.

The Epistle reading continues its series in Romans with 10:5-15. Paul, writing to the church in Rome, explains that it is by faith that people live out their belief, not by the law. Faith leads us to confession. We cannot confess what we do not believe. It is through belief that we live into God’s ways. This faith is available to all people of all backgrounds. However, no one can believe if they haven’t had the faith shared with them, so believers must share the good news, for they are sent by God to do so.

In Matthew 14:22-23, after feeding the crowds, the disciples had traveled across the lake in a boat, but Jesus had remained behind to dismiss the crowds and to have some time to pray alone on the mountain. The boat had drifted away in the evening due to the winds and the waves, so that morning, Jesus rejoined them by walking across the lake. The disciples were afraid, but Jesus encouraged them and told them it was him. Peter challenged Jesus, saying if it was him, Jesus should call for him to come out of the boat. Jesus called for Peter, and Peter took a few steps, but then he noticed the wind, became afraid, and started to sink. Jesus reached for Peter, but questioned him as to why he doubted. The rest of the disciples worshiped Jesus, proclaiming he was the son of God.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes its series on Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry with the Song of Solomon. In 2:10-13, part of the love song of the couple, the singer speaks of springtime, how the old is gone and the new is here. Everything is in bloom, everything is ripe, and it is the time to be with your beloved. In 8:6-7, the power of romantic love is powerful, stronger than death, worth more than any treasure in the world. The supplementary verses of Mark 8:35-37 include Jesus’ wisdom that his love and the gospel are of such value that we ought to be willing to lose our lives for it, because there we will find life. In these three short passages, the conclusion of this series is that wisdom is not necessarily knowledge, but rather the understanding of our love and passion for God and for one another that leads us to life.

How do we find hope when all seems hopeless? Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, trafficked into Egypt as a slave. Elijah faced persecution and could not find hope for even the next day—he was ready to die. Yet in looking back on those stories we see God’s faithfulness. However, it was not in the powerful actions of an interceding deity, but rather in the silence, in the wilderness, the mouth of the cave or at the bottom of the pit or in the jail cell. For the disciples, in the stillness of the water after the wind, they saw Jesus doing the impossible, walking on the water. For Paul, it is in our belief, not the evidence or proof, that we find Jesus. For Wisdom literature, it is in the fierce love we have for one another and for God that we find meaning. I wonder if, in the story of walking on water, instead of seeing the disciple’s fear and doubts and struggles, we see Jesus who perhaps thought for a moment one of the disciples was finally understanding, only to sink in doubt before him. Perhaps Jesus also felt lonely in those moments but did not give up on his friends. Sometimes our hope lies not in the actions of others because people will let us down—as Joseph learned when he was thrown into the pit by his brothers, as Elijah was persecuted, and as Jesus had to hold out his hand to Peter who was afraid and doubting. Perhaps our hope is simply in the love we have for God and one another. Love eventually brought Joseph’s brothers back, once they knew he was alive. Love eventually brought Elisha to take on Elijah’s mantle. Love brought the disciples back after the resurrection. Love might be the only thing that we can hold on to at times to keep going.

Call to Worship (1 Corinthians 13:1-2, 4-8a)
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love,
I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge
and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,
but do not have love,
I am nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
Join in the worship of Christ our Lord,
Who leads us in the way of love.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving God, Parent of us all, we confess that we do not turn to love first. We often turn to anger or judgment. We turn to our feelings of disappointment, betrayal, and hurt. We forget easily that the one who has harmed or angered us is one of Your children. Love does not mean we aren’t angry, or that we aren’t hurt, but we begin with understanding the same love that created us is in all Your children. Remind us to begin with love, O God, and nothing else, so that others may also turn to love first in their interactions with us. In the name of Jesus Christ who is Love Incarnate, we pray all things. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from 1 Corinthians 13:13)
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love. Know how much God loves you, beloved child. Know that love surpasses all. There is no place you can hide from God’s love, and you can never be forgotten. Know that God’s love is always with you. Share that love and good news with the world. Amen.

God of our Ancestors, remind us of their stories when we are discouraged. Remind us of the trials they faced when we are hurt by other’s actions, both intentionally and unintentionally. Remind us of how their faith was renewed and restored when we are full of doubt and despair. Encourage us in the stories of their faithfulness. Remind us that when we desire concrete and clear responses, You offer us silence, but it is not meant to discourage. It is a silence that acknowledges the gravity of our pain and loneliness, a silence that reminds us that sometimes even You know words will not bring comfort. May we sit in that silence with You, and with one another, and remember we are not alone. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and may we look to them for inspiration and encouragement. Amen.

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