Worship Resources for July 23, 2023—Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 28:10-19a and Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Isaiah 44:6-8 and Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Narrative Lectionary: Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry, Proverbs 1:1-7, 3:1-8 (Matthew 13:34-35)

In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, following the stories of our ancestors of the faith, Jacob has a dream in Bethel in Genesis 28:10-19a. Jacob beholds a vision of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it, and God introduces themselves as the God of their parents and grandparents. God repeats the promise made to Abraham and Sarah, that God will be his God, and that his descendants will be far more numerous than can be counted. Jacob is awed by this dream and consecrates the stone he laid upon as an altar, a reminder that he experienced God’s presence when he did not know it or expected it.

Psalm 139 is an intimate prayer to God, recognizing God as the creator who knows us most fully. God knows everything about the psalmist, and the psalmist knows there is no place where God’s presence is not known—not even in death. Darkness in this passage may be associated with death or shadows—the unknowable—but it is known to God. This selection concludes with vs. 23-24, where the psalmist asks God to test them, knowing they have remained true to God who knows them well, and in whom there can be no deceit.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah 44:6-8. In this brief passage from Second Isaiah, God declares through the prophet to the people that there is no other God. God is complete, who knows our beginnings and endings, speaking from the past of what is to come. There is no other god like God, whose presence is continually with them, and who brings the people comfort instead of fear.

Psalm 86 is a prayer for help, and vs. 11-17 the psalmist asks God for guidance, so they may be faithful to God’s ways. They begin with gratitude for God’s steadfast love and deliverance and ask for God’s graciousness and mercy in the face of their enemies. The psalmist asks God for a sign of favor, but they know God is the one who brings them help and comfort.

In Romans 8:12-25 (part of which was the Narrative Lectionary portion on Pentecost, May 28), Paul writes of the life of the Spirit. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Paul makes it clear that neither Jew or Greek or anyone of any background can be kept out of God’s reign, because if the Holy Spirit is present, they are a child of God. The Jewish and Gentile Christian communities in Rome were at odds with each other after the Jewish population returned during Nero’s time, and the Gentile believers didn’t quite understand how to fit in with their Jewish neighbors. This part of the passage concludes with a message of hope, that it isn’t about what can be seen, but that God is birthing something new in creation that cannot be seen yet. The faithful wait with patience.

The Gospel lesson continues with Jesus teaching in parables in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. Moving from last week and the Parable of the Sower, this week we read the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat. Like last week’s lesson, this is one of the few parables in which an explanation is included. Usually, Jesus did not explain the parables. In this parable, someone sowed seeds in their field, but someone else that night deliberately sowed weeds among the wheat, so that when the wheat grew, weeds grew up with the wheat. However, the weeds could not be pulled without uprooting the wheat, so the weed removal would have to wait until harvest time. In the explanation, Jesus teaches that just as weeds are gathered up to be burned in fire, this will be the end of the age. However, fire in the Bible is often purifying. Jesus explains that what will be collected are the causes of sin and all evildoers. But just like the image of the threshing floor and the harvester separating the wheat from the chaff with a winnowing fork that John the Baptist uses in Matthew 3:12, we might see human beings as containing both wheat and weed, not one person as wheat and another person as weed. Instead, God is the one working on us to remove sin from our lives and to uproot the systems of sin in our world.

The Narrative Lectionary begins a new series on Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry. In Proverbs 1:1-7, the prologue to the book shares how the proverbs attributed to Solomon are for learning about wisdom and gaining instruction, how riddles and words have deeper meanings. In 3:1-8, the writer shares instruction about learning and trusting in God’s ways will bring healing and wholeness to the believer’s life. Wisdom literature often uses poetry, song, and prose to convey a deeper understanding of God’s commandments and way of life.

The supplementary verses are Matthew 13:34-35, how Jesus told the crowd everything in parables, and a very short parable about the reign of God being like a woman mixing in yeast with a large amount of flour to leaven it.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” wrote the psalmist in 111:10a. Fear in Hebrew is often better translated as awe, a trembling kind of awe-inspiring knowledge of God. God revealed God’s self to Jacob through a magnificent dream, and Jacob suddenly realized that God was with him in the place he had slept, though he hadn’t known it before. It caused him to build an altar for worship. The psalmist in 139 recognized that God the Creator knew the psalmist so intimately there was nowhere they could hide, nothing they could do that would not be known by God. They were in complete awe of their fearful and wonderful Creator. The prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s faithfulness to the people, that there was no one else like God. Wisdom reminds us that God does not desire us to be pitted against each other in an us vs. them, but rather that we all fall short and have sin in our lives. The systems of sin in this world are sometimes difficult to escape, but we know that the fulfillment of the reign of God is to uproot all evil and remove it. Wisdom comes through our study and contemplation of Scripture, applying it to our lives, and remembering how small we are in the vast universe, and how awesome and wonderful our Creator is.

Call to Worship (Psalm 86:11-13, 15-16)
Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in Your truth;
Give me an undivided heart to revere Your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me;
Give strength to us all, Your servants.
In this time of worship,
May we come before You with our whole heart open to Your will.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Only Wise God our Savior, we pray that You will help us turn from the sin of this world and help us uproot the systems of evil that oppress and destroy. In Your wisdom may we discern what is right and what is true: justice for the oppressed, inclusion for the marginalized, and mercy for the most vulnerable. May we be challenged to use any privilege and power we may have for those whose voices are silenced. Hold us accountable when we skate by with the status quo, when we feel it is too much to risk while others risk everything simply to be alive. Remind us that to truly know You is to know the most vulnerable among us and to be in solidarity in restorative work. In the name of Jesus Christ, who laid down all privilege, all power, to be as the most vulnerable among us, to die as one of us, and who rose for us, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Psalm 139:7-12)
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
There is no place we can hide from God, but there is also no place where God cannot find us. No matter what we’ve done, no matter how distant we may feel from God, God is right there, ready for us with open arms. Know God’s loving embrace and know that You are God’s beloved child. There is nothing you can do that God will not forgive if you turn back to God. Know God’s restorative healing, and strive to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God, who loves you madly. Amen.

God of Wisdom and Insight, help us to slow down from the busy world around us. Remind us to turn off the notifications, silence all the alerts, and simply listen for You. Listen to the wind in the leaves, the rustle of grass, the call of birds in the morning and evening. Listen for the distant sounds of water, the noises of critters underneath, the soft pants of the deer and the creatures in the forest. May we remember that in the busy-ness of the world around us that humanity made with high speed internet and freeways and deadlines, there is another world, the one You made, full of life. May we catch hold of that sense of awe and remember that we are fully embodied, living creatures You shaped and breathed life into. We are wondrous, full of light and love that comes from You. May we remember each day, each moment, what a gift we are to You and to one another. We praise You, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Amen.

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