Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26
Narrative Lectionary: Bread of Life, John 6:35-59 (Psalm 34:1-10)
The prophet Jeremiah leans on the wisdom tradition in 17:5-10. For those who put their trust in worldly ways, human leadership and power and strength, and turn away from God, they will be like plants trying to grow in the desert, not knowing where their water comes from. But for those who trust in God, they are like trees planted by water. They will bear fruit and not be afraid of times of drought. The human heart leads people astray, but allowing God into our hearts and minds shows us our true selves and our intentions.
Psalm 1 uses similar imagery as Jeremiah. Those who live into God’s ways, who ponder and meditate God’s law and teaching—they are like streams planted by the water, whose leaves do not wither. They bring forth much fruit. The wicked are blown about by the wind of the world’s ways. Those who know God and God’s ways will flourish; those who reject God for the ways of the world will not gather with the righteous; they will perish.
The Epistle selection continues in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15:12-20. Here, Paul addresses another controversy in the church in Corinth, that some do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. In last week’s selection right before this, Paul laid out his credentials, that he was the last of all because of his prior persecution, yet through God’s grace he testified to the Gospel of Jesus. Now, Paul argues that if one proclaims Jesus is raised, then it must be a physical resurrection. If Christ wasn’t actually raised from the dead, then no one is raised from the dead and they are hypocrites. Those who have died remain dead, and they have not been forgiven of their sins. If it’s only a hope and not the truth for them, Paul argues that they are truly foolish and deserving of pity. However, the truth is that Christ was raised from the dead, the first fruit of God’s harvest.
Mirroring the Sermon on the Mount, in Luke’s account, Jesus gathers with the crowd in a level place to teach in Luke 6:17-26. The crowd gathered for healing, and power came out of Jesus and healed them all. Jesus then teaches his disciples what we call the Beatitudes: blessing the poor and hungry, those who mourn and those who are persecuted, for they will receive everything in the reign of God. However, in Luke’s account, there are woes that Jesus teaches afterward: woe to those who are rich and full, woe to those who rejoice and for those who are well-liked, for you will be poor, you will be hungry, you will mourn, and you will be persecuted. This is what happened to the false prophets—they had the praise of the people and the wealth and the power, and they were their own downfall.
The Narrative Lectionary turns to Jesus’ teaching on the Bread of Life in John 6:35-59. This was the Revised Common Lectionary series last August. In John’s account, this takes place after he fed the five thousand, and Jesus knows they are searching for him because of the miracle he performed. Instead of wanting him to create more bread, Jesus wants the crowds to understand that he is the bread of life. Those who believe will know that in Jesus they have eternal life. An important note: John’s gospel often uses the term “the Jews” in English translations. The Common English Bible uses the “Jewish opposition.” The writer of John and the community of the gospel were all Jewish followers of Jesus, so we need to understand that these were internal conflicts within a greater community and not “Jesus vs. the community” that it has often been interpreted as. Some of the leaders opposed Jesus, and in John’s account, they had serious issue with Jesus’ claim of being God’s son (which Jesus doesn’t explicitly say in the other Gospels, that is said about him instead). These leaders are also not unknown to Jesus—they know Mary and Joseph and they remember Jesus as a boy, which is why they have doubts about his claims. Jesus instead claims they do not know God, because they do not know him. He is the bread of life. When the leaders argue how can they eat his flesh, Jesus knows they have misunderstood but continues with the metaphor of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, because he is the one who came down from heaven. Jesus teaches that unless the believers take on his life, accept his death and resurrection, they will not know God.
The companion scripture is Psalm 34:1-10. The psalmist praises God, calling for those suffering to listen and rejoice, for God has answered their prayers. The psalmist declares in verse 8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” It is another beatitude: those who know God and trust in God will find their safety and refuge. Something that tastes good reminds us to give thanks and to be content—a sensory way of knowing God that is not often used.
Through both lectionaries, Wisdom’s way prevails. Knowing God means keeping to God’s ways and commandments, and through them, a full life is to be found. And even when we suffer and struggle in this life, we ought to take heart, for the reign of God is for us. It is when we turn to the world’s ways for satisfaction and contentment that we must be wary, for when we neglect those in need around us to make sure we have enough first, we have put ourselves first, and often conflate our needs with our desires. The ways of the world never satisfy, and we consume more and more—but the way of God teaches us that we are to love one another. Jesus calls us to turn to him for all our needs, to know that in Christ we will be fulfilled, for the bread of this world will never satisfy us. We only have to look to the scriptures, to our ancestors in the faith, to see that those who sought their own gain met their folly. Those who sought God’s ways, though their lives were not easy, knew God was with them for all time.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 1)
For those who follow God’s ways,
They are like trees planted by water.
They bring forth fruit in due season,
And they never wither or fail.
Delight in God’s teachings,
Meditate on the Scriptures, day and night.
God watches over the righteous,
Life is found in living God’s ways.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Wise God, we confess that we have succumbed to the ways of this world. We have sought worldly pleasure and comfort. We have put ourselves first—not to care for ourselves, but because we worry about falling behind the world. We believe the messages of consumerism and wealth that drive us to have more at the cost of others going without. Forgive us for our foolishness. Call us back to Your ways. Remind us to study the Scriptures, listen to Your teachings, ponder the Spirit moving in our lives and in our world. Test our hearts that we might know You and trust in Your will for our lives and not what the world wants. Call us into Your ways of justice, for You hear the cries of the marginalized and oppressed, and we do well to listen and pay attention. Call us to repent, to turn back to You, and live into Your reign on earth as it is in heaven. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
God is all compassionate loving-kindness. God is nurturing and caring. God picks us up when we fall and holds us close. God loves you madly. You are forgiven of your sins. Go and do the work Christ has called you to do, to love your neighbor as yourself, to do justice, practice loving-kindness, and walk humbly with God. Amen.
Spirit of Life, turn us away from day-to-day living and remind us that we are eternal people. Guide us to the places of rest and respite. Remind us that we are not machines who consume and produce, but living, holy beings in need of tender love and care. Guide us into the ways of healing and wholeness that require justice work and lead us into Your peace. Spirit of Life, breathe on us, move us, and show us the way, the truth, and the life, through Jesus Christ. Amen.