Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 and Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23; Genesis 15:1-6 and Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Narrative Lectionary: Series on 1 Peter, 5:1-14 (Matthew 20:25-28)
The first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures in this season after Pentecost follows the theme of the rise of the prophets. Unlike his contemporaries of Amos and Hosea who prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel, Isaiah (specifically First Isaiah) prophesied in Judah, in the city of Jerusalem. Isaiah saw the kings of Judah were following the same steps of Israel, and therefore Judah would befall the same fate unless they changed. The practice of worship without justice for the poor and oppressed was empty, meaningless to God. Their ways of violence stained their hands with blood. If the leaders of the people turned back to God’s ways, if they listened to God’s reasonable argument, they would still thrive. The blood would be washed from their hands. If not, they would die by the very violent ways they turned to.
Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 speaks to how God the mighty creator does not keep silent amidst injustice but comes to judge the people who are in covenant with God. God’s testimony shows that the people have not been faithful. Their sacrifices, their acts of worship, are not the problem—it is their practice of injustice that testifies against them. In verse 21, God admits that They have kept quiet, but no longer, and in verses 22-23 God reminds them of what happens if they forget God—they will be torn apart by their own actions. Instead, the one who turns back to God in thanksgiving, who offers their sacrifices in gratitude, is the one that God will show the way to salvation.
The second selection of the Hebrew Scriptures turns to Genesis 15:1-6. Abram is worried that he has no heir, and that a servant born in his house will inherit. However, God speaks assurance to Abram, that just as numerous as the stars are, so shall his descendants be. Abram believed what God said, and so God trusted in Abram’s faithfulness.
Psalm 33:12-22 is a song of praise, praising the people who have made the Lord their God, and whom God has chosen to be God’s people. God watches over all peoples and all nations. Leaders and warriors are not saved by their own strength and might, but by God. Faithful ones wait for God and put their trust in the One who is their defender. The psalmist concludes with a petition for God to bless the faithful ones who wait for God.
The Epistle reading turns to a four-part series in Hebrews, beginning with 11:1-3, 8-16. This section speaks of faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Our ancestors in the faith are ones to look to as an example, for they did not see the fullness of what was to come. Specifically, Abraham and Sarah were promised a new home, a new land. They were also promised that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars, and yet, they waited until their old age and had only one child. But from one person—and one might be as good as dead, for all their hopes of the future were literally in one fragile human being—God fulfilled the promise. They spoke of themselves as strangers in a strange land, and while on earth they hoped for a new home, God has shown that the true home is still to come, a home with God, a heavenly city prepared for them.
Luke 12:32-40 contains part of Jesus’ discourse on preparing for Christ’s return to our world and our lives in a new way, living as if Christ may come again at any moment. That preparation begins by living into God’s reign in the here and now. Jesus called upon his disciples to not be swayed by treasure on earth but to share what they have with those in need and to turn to treasure in heaven. Jesus uses the metaphor of a wedding banquet and servants ready to serve the groom when he returns. In this metaphor, the groom will in turn serve the servants at the table, and the groom is grateful when the servants are ready, no matter what time he returns. Then Jesus switches metaphors to a homeowner and a thief, and describes himself like a thief in the night, coming at an unexpected time, for Christ shall come at an unexpected time in an unexpected way.
The Narrative lectionary concludes its series on 1 Peter with 5:1-14. This final chapter encourages the leaders of the church to care for the congregation, the flock, and to do so as a shepherd would—not by lording it over others, but by humility and compassion. For the true shepherd will come. The writer also urges those who are younger in the faith to accept the authority of the elders. The writer encourages the believers to continue to be humble, to look to God in times of worry and stress, and to resist evil. The believers here are not alone in their struggles—all who believe in Christ are suffering, but God will restore the faithful. In the final greetings of this letter, the writer brings greetings through Silvanus who probably carried the letter (and may have written it), from the church in Babylon (meaning Rome, the church in the empire), and encourages peace to all in Christ.
The supplemental passage of Matthew 20:25-28 is Jesus’s words to his disciples after James and John’s mother asked that the two brothers be seated at Jesus’s right and left hand in the reign of God. The disciples were angry, but Jesus reminded them that in the Roman world around them the rulers lord it over the subjects, but that this is not the way of the reign of God. Instead, whoever wishes to be great must become a servant, for Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life.
Living in humility is living for God’s reign on earth. For if we truly want to live into Christ’s reign, we know we have to give up the ways of this world. Jesus gave up all worldly power. Our ancestors lived in faith, understanding that they would not live to see the fulfillment of God’s promises. We live with FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. We want everything now. We want both the reign of God and worldly wealth and security. The song “The Wanderer” by U2, sung by Johnny Cash, has this line:
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they don’t want God in it
We may want the kingdom that we have imagined, but not the actual beloved community in which everyone is invited and welcomed and where worldly wealth and notoriety have no power. It’s a struggle to live into the humility of Christ, who willingly gave up his life for us, and to imagine the reign of God without the ways of the empire, the ways of this world.
Call to Worship (Hebrews 11:1-3)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.
Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.
And by faith we understand.
The worlds were prepared by the word of God,
so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
Come, join in worship of our God,
In whom we have faith, though we have not seen.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty Creator, we confess our pride. We confess our lack of humility. We break down and destroy in seconds what took centuries, even thousands of years to build in creation. We take for granted all You have made in Your wisdom and consume it selfishly and discard what we don’t need as if Your creation was trash. Forgive us, O God, for not valuing the work of Your hands. Forgive us, O God, for our short-sightedness and foolishness. Help us to become humble, O God, as You became humble for us, a God who came as one of us, died as one of us, and lives again so that we might live. May we learn in graciousness, in deep compassion, and be filled with kindness and love for Your creation. Amen.
God is a God of renewal, of new beginnings, of new life. God is the God of the Rainbow, the covenant of restoration and life. God loves you, and God knows where you need a fresh start. Repent: turn back to God. Know God’s forgiveness and restoration are yours. Seek to love one another, forgive one another, and join in the work of reparation and healing among each other and the world. Go and share the Good News of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation in Christ Jesus, who lives again and brings new life to all. Amen.
Violence, Violence! The prophet Hosea cried out in ancient times, and we cry out, O God, for the violence of the world continues to destroy our lives. We come to You, O God of peace, and ask that You help us transform our hearts. Help us to become peacemakers. Guide us to put away the violence that is in our bodies, that is in our consumer choices, that is in our selfishness while others suffer injustice. Mold us into peacemaking people, and help us to make peace in our lives, in our homes, in our communities, and together, may we make peace in our world. Prince of Peace, lead us into the path to seek peace and pursue it. Amen.