Worship Resources for July 30, 2023—Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 29:15-28 and Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b or Psalm 128; 1 Kings 3:5-12 and Psalm 119:129-136; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Narrative Lectionary: Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry, Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-36 (John 8:56-58)

Jacob marries both Leah and Rachel in Genesis 29:15-28. Following the story of our ancestors of the faith, Jacob has returned to his mother Rebekah’s brother Laban (Jacob was fleeing his own brother, Esau, after deceiving their father to obtain Esau’s birthright). Jacob fell in love with Rachel, Laban’s younger daughter, but Laban deceived Jacob so that Jacob would marry Leah, the eldest, first. Jacob had to work another seven years beyond the seven he had first worked to obtain the right to marry Rachel, and both Leah and Rachel had handmaidens (Zilpah and Bilhah), who would also become mothers of Jacob’s children later on.

Psalm 105 is a song of praise, thanking God for what God has done through the ancestors of the faith. Vs. 1-4 call the people into worship, and vs. 5-11 praise God for the covenant made through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, an everlasting covenant through Israel, the name for Jacob and for all his descendants. God will never forget the covenant throughout the generations. The psalmist concludes the song with praise.

An alternative psalm is Psalm 128, a blessing for the faithful family. Those who are faithful to God’s ways will find God’s goodness and bounty in the land and will have faithful partners and children. They will know God’s blessings for their whole life.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is 1 Kings 3:5-12. Solomon has a dream in which God asks him what it is he wants. God promises to grant Solomon whatever his request is. Solomon seeks wisdom, and God is delighted that what Solomon desires is to live into God’s ways, to be wise in discernment with his authority, power, and privilege, and God promises Solomon that he will be granted wisdom like no one else.

Psalm 119 is a long acrostic poem with each stanza starting with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In vs. 129-136, the psalmist praises God for the law and commandments, all of God’s teaching. The psalmist seeks to live into God’s ways and prays for God to draw close. The singer seeks freedom from human oppression, so they may keep to God’s teachings. This section concludes with the psalmist mourning how God’s ways are not kept by all.

The Epistle reading continues its series in Romans, with 8:26-39 (this was part of the Narrative Lectionary reading on Pentecost). 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, whether they were believers in Jesus, or not. There were struggles, even suffering, during that time, but the Spirit is the one who brings aid and comfort and intercedes when things seem impossible. “All things work together for good for those who love God.” God has continually been working to bring all of God’s children together, no matter their background, no matter what struggles or suffering they have been through. There is nothing they have done and nothing anyone else could do that could separate themselves from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Jesus continues to teach in parables in the selections from Matthew 13:31-33, and 44-52. These are a series of very short parables of what the kingdom of heaven is like. The first two—the mustard seed sown deliberately in a field, becoming a home for birds, and the yeast mixed in with large amounts of flour—both of these show how God’s reign is subversive and unstoppable. The treasure hidden in a field and the great pearl show that the reign of God is worth sacrificing everything else for. The last parable in vs. 47-50 is a bit longer and parallels the last parable Jesus tells in Matthew, in 25:31-46, separating out the good and bad fish. Vs. 51-42 contain one final parable in this section, after Jesus questions the disciples whether they have understood his teachings. In this parable, Jesus looks at the scribes who study the law: if they have trained for the kingdom of heaven, they are like a master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. Both old and new are valued, but the wise ones know how to treasure both.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry. In Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-36, Wisdom is personified as a woman. In vs. 1-11, Wisdom is out on the streets at the crossroads, calling people to turn from the ways of the world and to turn to the wisdom of God, to seek Wisdom’s instruction and understanding instead of worldly wealth, power, and desires. In vs. 22-36, Wisdom reveals they have been present since the beginning of the world. Some associate the Holy Spirit with this personification, while others see this as Jesus, but Wisdom is the one who was with the Creator when all things were made, rejoicing in the inhabited world and delighting in the creation of human beings. Wisdom calls human beings her children and instructs them to listen to her teaching and keep to her ways. Those who find her find life.

The supplementary verses are John 8:56-58, in which Jesus declares he has existed since long before Abraham. Paired with Proverbs 8, this suggests that Wisdom is also in Jesus.

Living into God’s ways requires risk. It was a risk for Jacob, who was deceived in marrying Leah the same way he had deceived his own brother out of his birthright, but he stayed true so he could marry Rachel. Solomon could have asked for more power or glory, but he sought wisdom. The parables, full of wisdom, teach us that we must be willing to risk the power, wealth, and desire of this world we have made for the reign of God, which is not of this world. Wisdom teaches us that when we stay close to the instructions of God, living into the commandments, ordinances, and statutes, we draw closer to God. In staying true to God’s ways, we do risk losing the possessions, wealth, and power of this world, but we find God will see us through. Blessings from God do not mean possessions or wealth, but it means we will find enough with the help of others. When we love our neighbors and care for their needs, we find our own needs will be met in mutual care. This doesn’t mean it is easy, but it does mean that when we seek God’s ways, we will find meaning and purpose, love, and the knowledge that we are God’s children, and God will never abandon us. There is nothing that will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Call to Worship (Psalm 105:1-4)
O give thanks to the LORD, call on God’s name,
Make known God’s deeds among the peoples.
Sing to God, sing praises to God;
Tell of all God’s wonderful works.
Glory in God’s holy name;
Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Seek the LORD and God’s strength;
Seek God’s presence continually.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We confess, O God, that we do not look for Your kin-dom to be at hand. We are still waiting. We confess that at times we are wanting a kin-dom that doesn’t look much different than the world we are in, except in that vision we have all the power and possessions we desire. We confess that we are making the kin-dom of God in our own image, and it is still very much like an worldly kingdom. Forgive us for not abandoning the ways of this world so we might hunt for Your reign like a treasure hidden in a field. Forgive us for not letting go of the possessions and greed and privilege that holds us back from seeking You like a great pearl. Forgive us for not planting the seeds of Your kin-dom. Forgive us for our foolish ways. Call us into Your ways of love, restoration, and reconciliation, in the name of Christ, who laid down his life and all the world’s foolishness for Your eternal love, and who offers us this eternal life. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (Romans 8:31-32, 35, 37-39)
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing can separate you from God’s love. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are restored. Go share the Good News. Amen.

Come, Thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and night, to us the path of knowledge show, and cause us in Her ways to go. Wisdom-Spirit, descend upon us so that we might live into Your ways. Drive us far from the foolishness of this world and lead us into the life You have ordained for us, through the commandments and teachings, from the prophets and sages and ancestors, to the ways that Your creation continues to show us Your magnificence, and through the love of Jesus Christ. May we listen and learn and love. Amen.

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