Revised Common Lectionary: Hosea 11:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 and Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
Narrative Lectionary: Series on 1 Peter, 4:1-19 (Matthew 5:43-48)
The first selection for the Hebrew Scriptures follows the rise of the prophets, continuing in Hosea. The prophet spoke on behalf of God to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, using parental language toward the people. God loved Israel and Judah, remembering Israel as Ephraim, a son of Joseph also used to refer to Israel, but especially in the metaphor of a young child. God brought the people out of oppression in Egypt, but the people kept turning from God to worship Baals, gods of other countries, and made alliances with other countries. Therefore, God allowed the consequences of their actions, their poor decisions, to take place. They would return to a place of oppression under Assyria, and God would not deliver them. However, God is compassionate, like a parent, for Israel. God would not destroy them. After a time of loss, there will be a time of renewal and return for the people.
Psalm 107:1-9, 43 is a song of thanksgiving for God who delivered the people out of wilderness and exile. God is faithful, and God will gather the survivors from all directions. God led the ones who were hungry and thirsty in the wilderness to a town where they received what they needed, an example of God’s faithful love. The psalmist concludes that those who are wise will listen and learn, knowing that God’s steadfast love endures forever.
The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Ecclesiastes. Though the authorship has been attributed to Solomon, most scholars believe this is a collection of sayings and instructions compiled and shared by a Teacher who uses Solomon’s name for clout, for his reputation as a wise king. The writer of Ecclesiastes sees that everything human beings pursue in this lifetime is usually meaningless, like chasing the wind, or a mist that slips through our fingers. People work hard, either for money and possessions, or for wisdom and knowledge, and it all passes after they die. People take no time for rest, not even at night, thinking they must be productive. It is vanity. It is meaningless. It is chasing after things that do not matter and that we cannot grasp.
Psalm 49 is a wisdom psalm. In the first half, verses 1-12, the psalmist speaks to all people of the world, of all economic backgrounds. Wealth can’t save anyone, can’t buy anyone out of the grave, and both foolish and wise people will die all the same. Though people buy and sell land and name places after them, none of it matters when they die, because the grave becomes their home.
The Epistle reading continues in Colossians with 3:1-11. The writer calls for unity in Christ, in behavior and in identity. The writer encourages the believers to set their minds on Christ. The true believer is clothed with a new self, one that lives by loving one another. In this renewal, all are a new creation in Christ. Their old identities were formed to be in rivalry with others, but their new identity in Christ is as a child of God, for Christ is in all.
Jesus told a parable after he was challenged by a person in the crowd in Luke 12:13-21. A man asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance with him. Jesus responded to him with the word, “Friend,” followed by a rhetorical question: who appointed Jesus to be judge between them? In response, Jesus told a parable of a wealthy man whose land produced more than he needed, and even after his storage was full, he decided to tear down his barns to build bigger ones. The man was satisfied with this plan, telling his soul he’d done well, but that very night God demanded his life. For those who store up wealth for themselves have no wealth in God. The pursuit of wealth and power and notoriety in this world is meaningless and worthless. Excess in this world must be given to those without, not hoarded for one’s self, for that is all one will remember. The man who originally wanted Jesus to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance was more concerned about wealth and power than about the relationship with his brother and the rest of his family. That is what he will always be known for.
The Narrative Lectionary continues its series in 1 Peter with chapter 4, focusing on living in Christ and not the ways of this world. Living by the flesh—a term used throughout the Epistles—is about satisfying one’s desires in the moment, living an enjoyable life. They become separate from the suffering in the world and focus only on themselves. God is ready to judge the living and the dead, the writer states. Perhaps the judgment of the dead is what they are remembered for—either a generous spirit, or a selfish, impatient life of debauchery that pleases only oneself. The writer then shifts in verse 8 to remind the believers to love one another, to use the gifts given by God to serve one another. In verse 12, the writer turns to the subject of suffering. The writer prays that no one will suffer because of their own evil actions, but that when they suffer for doing God’s will, they can rest assured that God will be faithful to them through end.
The supplementary text is Matthew 5:43-48, where Jesus encourages the believers to love even their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. They are not to repay evil for evil, but do good in all circumstances. For those who love only those who love them, what reward is that? Other people do that, but to love their enemies sets them apart as believers who truly love all, as God loves all people.
The prophets taught that the people had to live with the consequences of their leader’s actions. Israel, and later Judah, were taken into exile because their leaders worshiped other gods, made poor political arrangements, and caused the poor to suffer by their choices and lavish lifestyle. However, even today, people with certain advantages in society often pursue the wealth and power of this world and find they are not satisfied. They consume more and more, while those on the margins of society suffer. The early church leaders warned against falling into the “ways of the flesh”—the ways of this world that put personal pleasure and pursuit of happiness and satisfaction above the needs of others. The early church leaders also found joy in the work of serving Christ and others—a joy not found in the ways of this world. Pursuing the important things in this life: relationships, compassion, serving one another, sharing what we have with others—this brings the true joy to Christian life.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 107:1, 8-9, 43)
O give thanks to the LORD, for God is good;
For God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Let the people thank the LORD for God’s steadfast love,
for God’s wonderful works to humankind.
For God satisfies the thirsty,
And God fills the hungry with good things.
Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of our Ancestors, we confess that we have continued to fall astray as our forebearers did. We have turned to wealth and power and trampled upon the poor and oppressed. Leaders have made choices for us that compromise the well-being of the most vulnerable among us, to satisfy the wealthy elite. Even those of us with little power have at times put those with wealth and fame on pedestals, in hopes that somehow it will pass to us. You, O Lord, came as one of us, emptying yourself of power and dying on the cross for us. Forgive us for our foolish, selfish ways, and call us into Your way, of loving and serving one another, of seeking the marginalized and lifting up the oppressed, raising up the poor and filling the hungry with good things. Call us into Your ways so that we might change our lives for You, Christ our Lord. Amen.
Seek the Lord and live. Love one another. Serve one another. Become humble and full of compassion for one another. Leave behind the ways of this world—selfish greed and wealth and notoriety and worldly power—for they are dead ends. Find the way of Christ, and know love and life. Forgive, love, and care for one another and this planet, so that we might care for each other and built up the reign of Christ on earth. May this be a blessing and commission to you. Amen.
God of Peace, help us to lay down our weapons of war and weapons of power, our weapons of apathy and our weapons of harsh words. Lead us into Your ways, to love and serve one another. Help us to find peace by leaving behind the pursuits of wealth and power, and help us to dive into wisdom and understanding. Guide us in Your ways through the reading of scripture: the practice of compassion, the pursuit of justice, the way of righteousness, and the life of love for one another. In the name of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we pray. Amen.