Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Psalm 124; Isaiah 51:1-6 and Psalm 138; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
Narrative Lectionary: Series on Creeds, John 1:1-18 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, or Series on Sabbath, Genesis 2:1-3 and John 15:9-15
We have passed the halfway point in this season after Pentecost, and the first selection in the Hebrew scriptures shifts from following the ancestors of our faith as a family from Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, to Joseph and his brothers and children as they settled in Egypt. For the second half of this season, we will follow their descendants who became the Israelites, a great people. Exodus 1:8 begins with a great reminder of what happens when we do not tell our stories and keep history alive: a new king came into power in Egypt who did not know Israel. The king’s lack of knowledge turned to fear. To manage their fear, the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites. But the Israelites were of a greater number, so the oppressors turned to genocide—killing the boy children born to Israelite mothers. Nonetheless, even at the point of genocide there were those who resisted—the midwives. Chapter two turns to the particular story of a Levite woman who gave birth to a boy and hid him until she could no longer do so. With his sister watching over him, his mother hid him among the reeds until he happened to be discovered by Pharaoh’s own daughter, who took him into her household. The boy’s sister even helped Pharoah’s daughter find a nurse—the boy’s mother—so that they could remain together. Pharoah’s daughter named him Moses. The story of the midwives to Moses’s mother, to his sister Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter show that resistance to empire does not always come through violence, but through the building of relationships necessary to survival. Exodus 2:1-10 has all the elements of a mythological figure—or superhero—birth story. The one who was supposed to die lived. Raised in the household of his people’s greatest enemy. He survived when others his age were slaughtered. He would someday rise up for his people.
Psalm 124 is a song of victory, remembering the people’s escape from their enemies. The people remember what God has done for them, and that without God they would have died in the waters. The psalmist praises God who did not allow their enemies to overtake them, and ends with a reminder that God, the creator of heaven and earth, is the source of their help.
The second selection in the Hebrew scriptures turns to Isaiah 51:1-6. In verses 1-3, the prophet calls the people to look back to their beginnings. Look back to their own beginning as a people, the culture and faith that shaped them. Look to the ancestors, and their story of faith. Look back, and see where God has been faithful, and God will be faithful again to the people coming out of exile. In verses 4-6, the prophet turns to God’s voice, calling the people to listen to God’s teaching and justice. God’s deliverance is near for all people. In a glimpse of the future, the prophet declares that the division of heaven and earth will pass, along with the people, but God’s salvation will endure forever.
Psalm 138 is a song of thanksgiving and praise to God for God’s deliverance. Attributed to David, the psalmist thanks God for answering their prayer. The psalmist calls all the rulers of the earth to praise God. In an echo of Psalm 23, the psalmist knows that even among their enemies, God is present with the singer and will deliver them, for God’s steadfast love endures forever. God will fulfill the psalmist’s intended purpose, however God sees fit.
The Epistle reading continues its series in Romans this season with 12:1-8. Paul changes gears in this part of the letter, having successfully argued that Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ, that oneness in Christ means believers live life anew. The believer’s very life is a living sacrifice, a witness to God’s work in the world. Though each person is different with different gifts and abilities, all gifts, all members are necessary as the body of Christ.
Jesus questions the disciples about who they think he is in Matthew 16:13-20. He first asks the disciples who people say the Son of Man is, and they respond with the various answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. Peter responded with “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus is delighted that Peter understands this and what has been revealed by God to him, and that the church will be built on that foundation—that Jesus is the Christ. However, Jesus ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. It seemed important in Matthew and Mark’s account that believers discern this for themselves.
The Narrative Lectionary has two series: one on Creeds, and the other on Sabbath.
The beginning of the gospel according to John begins with the poetic prologue that the Word was in the beginning with God, and the Word is the Light of the World. John came to testify to the light, though he himself was not the light. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through him, but the world did not know him. The Word became Flesh and lived among us. No one has seen God, but we have been made known of God through the Son. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 speaks of the message of the cross as foolishness to the world, for the world did not know God through wisdom. Instead, the world came to know God through Christ crucified, for God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. In both passages, Christ is the one who has revealed the hiddenness of God’s wisdom to the world.
The second series for the Narrative Lectionary on Sabbath begins with Genesis 2:1-3, and the account of the last day of creation, the seventh day, which God rested. God blessed the day and hallowed it. This account in Genesis from the priestly tradition reminds us that the purpose of this story of creation is to teach us about the sabbath and why it is holy. In John 15:9-15, Jesus reminds the disciples to keep his commandments, and to abide in Christ’s love. These commandments are given so that Christ’s joy may be complete. The commandment Jesus gives is to love one another, for no one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
We must continue to tell the stories passed down to us, the good and the bad. That means we must also listen to the stories others have passed down. To erase history, to erase the stories erases the truth. The story of the Israelites oppressed in Egypt reminds us of what happens when we do not know our history. When we don’t know the stories of enslavement, reconstruction, Jim Crow, redlining, the war on drugs—when we do not remember the lessons of Europe in the 1930’s and the rise of fascism and Nazis—when we don’t tell the stories of indigenous boarding schools often run by churches—we perpetuate racism and genocide and oppression. We have to remember our stories. We move forward only after looking back. The people coming out of exile saw their future entwined with other nations. Paul knew that differences could divide—or they could be celebrated and become part of the body together. God’s desire for us is wholeness, without division—to the point that heaven comes down to earth in Revelation 21. But we cannot move forward without understanding and learning from our past.
Call to Worship (from John 1:14, 16-18)
The Word became flesh and lived among us,
We have seen God’s glory, full of grace and truth.
From God’s fullness we have all received grace upon grace,
Grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God, but we have experienced the Son,
For Christ is God’s heart, made known to us.
As we enter this time together, focus your heart on Christ,
Be prepared to live into God’s love within and beyond this time and space of worship.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of our ancestors, we confess we have distorted history. We have told the stories of those in power, not necessarily the stories of all the people. We have ignored the most vulnerable, erasing the survivors from the narrative. Remind us through the scriptures the importance of listening to the voices on the margins. Call us to listen to the stories that challenge what we think we know, and to be mindful of those whose narratives are silenced: those in poverty, disabled, elderly, refugees, indigenous, those whose ancestors were brought by slavery and trafficked. May we be open to learning from the past so we can help shape a future You desire, one in which the boundaries that keep people out are erased, one in which we truly can be Your body on earth, with many members, with all our gifts of diversity. In the name of Jesus Christ, who binds us together, we pray. Amen.
God knows us, all of us—the stories of our ancestors that have helped shape us, the hairs on our head, our inmost thoughts and concerns and wounds. God loves you so, so much—for you are made in God’s image, scars and all. You are beautiful and precious to God. Share this love with one another, for in Christ we know we belong to each other, we are neighbors in the beloved community of God and God’s steadfast love endures forever. Amen.
Maker of the Earth, we give thanks that the seasons continue to change. In the southern hemisphere, winter is preparing to thaw into spring. In the north, we look to fall and cooler temperatures. We pray for an end to the wildfires and scorching heat, we pray for the safety of students heading back to school, we pray for teachers and principals, nurses and librarians—that all may know Your grace and care. As the seasons turn, may we be open to our own minds changing. May we be open to our connection to the earth, the beauty of creation and the bounty of springtime and harvest. May we be open to new insights and ideas and learning. May we be open to new people who express Your image in new ways, remembering that all of us reflect Your divinity. Great Creator, guide us through this seasonal transition, open to where You may lead us next. Amen.