Revised Common Lectionary: Hosea 1:2-10 and Psalm 85; Genesis 18:20-32 and Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19); Luke 11:1-13
Narrative Lectionary: Series on 1 Peter, 3:13-22 (Matthew 5:3-10)
The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures in this season after Pentecost follows the rise of the prophets. Hosea was a contemporary of Amos, warning of the destruction coming to the northern kingdom of Israel, whose sayings and writings were later shared among the southern kingdom of Judah as a warning against the same fate. In the first chapter, Hosea and his family are used as a metaphor of God’s relationship with Israel. Hosea married a sex worker named Gomer, a metaphor for Israel’s unfaithfulness to the One God. Gomer bore children, each one given a name that alludes to God’s relationship with Israel. Jezreel, “God Sows,” was named for a valley of crossroads where battles were fought. Lo-ruhamah, “No Compassion,” was named because God no longer had compassion for the northern kingdom (however, God did still have compassion for Judah). Lo-ammi, “Not My People,” symbolized how Israel had broken the covenant with God. Yet still, God did not break the covenant, and as promised to Abraham and Sarah, the people of Israel would be like the grains of sand, uncountable, and they would once again be known as “children of the living God.”
Psalm 85 is a song recalling God’s faithfulness, even though the people have gone astray. This prayer calls upon God to show mercy, to restore the people, to forgive them as God had forgiven them before. The psalmist calls upon the people to listen to God, for God is their salvation. 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.
In the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures, Abraham tries to bargain with God in Genesis 18:20-32. In the verses preceding these, God ponders whether to keep what is about to happen from Abraham. In verse 20, God decides to tell Abraham that the cries of injustice from Sodom and Gomorrah are overwhelming as is their sin. God sends messengers (angels) to Sodom, and Abraham tries to bargain with God. What if there are fifty innocent people still there? God declares to Abraham that God will save the city if there are fifty innocent people. Then Abraham asks about forty-five, and so on down to ten. God finally declares that the city will not be destroyed if there are ten innocent people, and yet, we know in the next chapter the city is destroyed. While much has been made of the type of sexual activity of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, in careful reading of the text it is clear those men of the city were raping outsiders. The story is critical of rape and is similar to the end of Judges. Jeremiah 23:14 mentions Sodom and Gomorrah in terms of adultery. Ezekiel 16:49 speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin as hoarding wealth and ignoring the poor. Nonetheless, Abraham tried to intervene, and God did listen to him.
The psalmist sings a song of praise for God’s faithfulness in Psalm 138. God has answered the psalmist’s prayers, and God continues to deliver them from trouble. The psalmist calls upon the rulers of the earth to lift up their praise and thanksgiving to God, because God’s steadfast love endures forever. The psalmist concludes with a petition to God to not forsake the work God is doing.
The epistle reading continues in the letter to Colossians with 2:6-19. The writer (supposedly Paul) urges the church to live their lives in accordance with Jesus. At this time, there were competing views of how to follow Jesus among the early Christians. Some believed that they needed to hold on to the religious traditions they had been taught as Jewish believers. Others followed different teachers who may have been leading them astray. Paul was concerned that they live into Christ and remember that they are saved by faith in Christ, not through circumcision or any other practice. Any other actions necessary for salvation were destroyed by Christ’s death on the cross. Verses 16-19 urge the listener/reader not to worry about some of the cultural practices of the time, whether to participate or not. If the practice leads one astray from Christ, then it is best to avoid them, but there is nothing wrong with observing those cultural practices in themselves—as long as one understands their fullness is in Christ and not in any tradition or practice.
Jesus is asked by his disciples to teach them how to pray, as John taught his disciples, in Luke 11:1-13. Jesus teaches them a simple prayer that has evolved into what we know as the Lord’s Prayer today. However, Jesus elaborates on being given our daily bread, with a teaching about being persistent in asking for what we need. We give in when others are persistent with us because we are nagged by them and they wear us down, but God gives to us freely because God is good. We forgive so we can move on and get over it, but God forgives because God is good. Persistently pray for God’s reign to come and for our daily bread, to forgive others as we have been forgiven, because this is what we truly need, and we need to remember to give freely to others, too.
The Narrative Lectionary continues its series in 1 Peter with 3:13-22. The writer encourages these early believers to do good, even if they suffer for it. Others will begin to see that true believers live with Christ in their hearts and their intentions are pure and will become ashamed of the suffering the true believers endure because of it. Christ himself was innocent and died as a human being but was raised by the Spirit. The writer then turns to the story of Noah as a metaphor of baptism, of wiping the slate clean as God started fresh with Noah. Salvation has come through Christ’s resurrection, but baptism marks us now as saved, preparing us for what awaits in heaven.
The supplementary text is Matthew 5:3-10, part of the Beatitudes (connected to the Narrative Lectionary supplemental texts on July 10). Those who suffer and struggle now are the ones blessed, because theirs is the reign of God. They will be filled, receive mercy, be with God and be called God’s children. In our struggles and suffering, we know that we are not alone. It doesn’t mean our struggles will be easier, but that God knows what we have gone through.
God is persistent. God does not give up on us, though we have gone astray, though we have broken the covenants. Christ remained faithful to the point of death on the cross, and did not turn to power over others, or violence, or evil. If we live into Christ, we also must be persistent. We must be faithful to the way of Christ and not turn to evil, even when we struggle. The way of this world, the way of empire, draws us into the empire’s ways of violence, domination, and greed, but the way of Christ is healing, forgiveness, restoration. Too often we have equated justice with punishment. We have misunderstood the “wrath” of God in the scriptures as divine punishment instead of understanding that we live with the consequences of our own actions, our acts of evil and violence. God is still good. God’s steadfast love endures forever. It is up to us to turn back to God, to put an end to the ways of this world, and to live into Christ.
Call to Worship (from Matthew 5:3-5)
Blessed are the hopeless,
For theirs is the reign of God.
Blessed are those who grieve,
For they will have comfort.
Blessed are those who are humble,
For they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are you who follow Christ,
For you know the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Come, let us follow Christ together.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we have not lived as the body of Christ. We have not remembered that You are the head, and we are Your hands and feet and heart and lungs. We have said to some, “We don’t need you,” and to others, “You must change and become like us,” and still to others we have even forgotten they existed. Forgive us, O Holy One, for without You we are nothing. We are dust. But with You, and with one another, we are the body of Christ. Remind us, bind us together, breathe new life into us and send us into the work of reparation and restoration of this world. In the name of Jesus Christ, who gave his own body for us that we might have life, we pray. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27)
If one part suffers, all suffer with it. If one part rejoices, all rejoice with it. We are all the body of Christ, members of one another, baptized by one Spirit into one Body. We need one another. We must work to restore one another. We must bring healing and hope to one another. We must remember that we cannot live our lives alone. Forgive, and know God’s forgiveness. Mend, and know God’s healing in your life. Repair, and know God’s restoration in your soul. Go and live into the Good News as the body of Christ together. Amen.
God Almighty, we look at the new images of the stars from the James Webb Space Telescope and are struck in awe and wonder at the work of Your hands. We are only beginning to understand how small we are and how vast Your universe is. With the writer of Psalm 8, we wonder how You are mindful of us, yet You made us a little lower than divine. You care for us. The atoms and molecules that form our own body, the cells that are the building blocks of life, are just as wondrous and awe-inspiring. In our moments when we think we know it all, O God, may we be reminded of how little we actually do. In our times of tunnel vision when we look at only our daily struggles, remind us that You are the Creator of the Heavens and Earth, the Maker of the Universe, and the Shaper of what is to come. You are the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Amen and amen.