Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 12:1-9 and Psalm 33:1-12; Hosea 5:15-6:6 and Psalm 50:7-15; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Narrative Lectionary: Series on Isaiah, Isaiah 9:1-7 (John 8:12)
In the season after Pentecost, the Revised Common Lectionary contains two choices for the Hebrew Scriptures and Psalms—one selection that is semicontinuous, and a second selection that pairs with the Gospel reading. The semicontinuous readings for year B follow the ancestors of the faith in Genesis and Exodus, from a family to a nation, through enslavement to freedom.
We begin with Genesis 12:1-9, the call of Abram and Sarai. The two had traveled from Ur to Haran with Abram’s father Terah and family, but now God spoke to Abram and Sarai and called them with a promise that they would be the ancestors of a great nation. Abram, Sarai, and Abram’s nephew Lot set out to Canaan, and along the way, Abram built altars to sacrifice to God, first at the oak of Moreh in Shechem, then in the hill country east of Bethel. They journeyed via states through Canaan to the Negev, the desert land south of Canaan, and they knew the same God who called them was with them on their journey.
Psalm 33:1-12 is a song of praise to God for God’s faithfulness and sings of God’s love for those who are faithful. God’s steadfast love is made known to the world through God’s acts of creation. God’s voice is known because with it, God creates. For the nations that choose God, they are blessed and content. For those who choose their own way, God frustrates their plans. Those who know God are in awe of God, for God’s works in creation and God’s righteousness and justice.
The prophet Hosea doesn’t mince words in 5:15-6:6. Hosea, writing as the northern kingdom of Israel was about to be invaded by Assyria, lived out the metaphor of Israel’s unfaithfulness in his own marriage. The people of Israel have turned to other nations, other gods, and have forsaken God’s ways. God has stopped intervening and instead waits for the people to turn back. God knows the people will only turn to God when everything has become bad enough for them to remember God is there. However, God is tired of their empty rituals and their assumption that they can turn back to God as a last resort. God desires their love and faithfulness in relationship, not their sacrifices and performative repentance.
Psalm 50:7-15 contains a rebuke for those who are religiously pious for appearance’s sake. The people are continually offering sacrifices but also repeatedly turning away from God. God instead desires true worship. God knows all the creatures of the earth and air, for God made them, so why sacrifice them? God suggests a sacrifice of thanksgiving—instead of depending on God to response with mercy, offer God thanksgiving for all God has already done, for God will deliver the people.
The Epistle readings begin a series in Romans this season after Pentecost, overlapping some with the readings from Lent. Paul wrote to the church in Rome to introduce himself and his theology of understanding that in Christ, Jews and Gentiles were now one people. For the Gentile believers, Paul wanted them to accept their Jewish neighbors, including those who didn’t follow Jesus, because Jewish believers in Jesus were still tied culturally to their Jewish neighbors. For Jewish Christians, Paul wanted them to accept their Gentile neighbors even though they had different social customs and opinions. In 4:13-25, Paul argues that it is not the law that brings faith. Abraham was the ancestor of all nations, and it was his faith that was reckoned to him as righteousness, not the acts of the law. The law does not bring faith, Paul argues, so for Jewish Christians it is faith in Jesus that saves. This save faith is available for Gentiles without living under the law, for those who believe that Jesus is raised from the dead, for Christ was raised for the justification of all.
Jesus is among “unclean people” in Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26. Jesus called a tax collector to follow him, and the tax collector invited Jesus to his home to eat with him and some other tax collectors and “sinners.” Jesus was questioned by some of the religious authorities as to why he was eating with them. We need to understand that ritual purity was not something usually bothered with on a daily basis, it only came into play if one was to enter the temple or participate in religious practice. Nonetheless, the Pharisees were generally more interested in maintaining religious purity even outside the temple, and because Jesus had much in common with them, when they disagreed, they disagreed pretty strongly. Tax collectors worked for the Roman Empire and were seen as participating in their own people’s oppression. Sinners might be anyone who was either ritually impure or those who might also be seen as helping the oppressors. Jesus responds that he came not for the righteous—not for those who are already living rightly under God—but for sinners. Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but those who are sick, do. Those who must survive by working for their oppressors are the ones who need God’s love and mercy.
Skipping ahead to verse 18, after Jesus had dinner with the tax collectors and sinners, a leader of the synagogue came to him, for the man’s daughter had died but he believed that if Jesus laid his hand on her, she would live. While on the way to see the little girl, Jesus was touched by a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. Jesus told her that her faith made her well. When he arrived at the girl’s home, the funeral has already begun but Jesus explained she was not dead, only sleeping. He took her by the hand, and she got up. Jesus, being touched by the woman bleeding and by touching the dead girl, should have been considered unclean himself, but the woman with the hemorrhage was healed and the dead girl brought back to life. By faith they were healed, and laws around ritual purity were circumvented. Again, Jesus’s actions seem to only offend certain religious leaders of the Pharisees, not the entire community, probably because Jesus interacted more with the Pharisees than other groups.
The Narrative Lectionary continues its series in Isaiah, with 9:1-7. This passage, often quoted by Christians in Advent, is the prophecy associated with the newborn king, one who would not be corrupt and would lead the people as David once did. Hezekiah, born in Judah, was the hoped-for king who would bring about a reign of peace after the northern kingdom of Israel (especially the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali) had been taken into exile by Assyria. The first prophet called Isaiah had witnessed the destruction himself. Assyria had attacked Jerusalem, but had not prevailed, and the prophet found hope in the next king. Using the imagery of darkness and light, Isaiah believes the destructive past is over and a new day has begun. Six hundred years later, Christians found resonance in this passage, in the hope of Jesus as the Messiah.
The supplementary verse of John 8:12 reminds us that Jesus has come as a light into the world. By following him, we will know eternal life, a flame never extinguished.
The theme of faithfulness appears through all these scriptures: God’s enduring faithfulness through all generations, and our own faithfulness to God, though our faithfulness is sometimes circumspect. God made a promise to our ancestors Abram and Sarai and they believed in that promise (most of the time), enough to travel far away from their family with hope for their future generations. The prophet Hosea was skeptical of the people of Israel’s faithfulness because all he saw were people responding out of desperation for the situation they had made, instead of responding to God’s faithfulness first in gratitude. Paul wrote of Abraham’s faithfulness to God without the need of the law. Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel account experiences the faithfulness of both a powerless woman and a leader in the synagogue—a reminder that not all the religious leaders opposed Jesus. In the Narrative Lectionary, Isaiah shares God’s faithfulness through the birth of Hezekiah, the promise of a new king.
God’s promises lead to life, and life eternal. The ways of the world that we have made—worldly power, greed, notoriety, even worldly acceptance—they lead us away from God. Hosea warned that those who only turn to faith in false pretenses, as sort of a back-up option when things get really bad as a last desperate attempt—will find that it may be too late. God may not intervene in worldly situations. Nonetheless, God promises that we will not be alone. God promises there will always be a new start. We may have to live through the consequences of our own actions, but God’s promises to our ancestors endure in us—God will always do a new thing. Christ is a flame that cannot be extinguished. The Spirit will continue to work good in the world and in us. God’s faithfulness endures forever.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 33:1, 3a, 4-5, 21)
All you who are righteous,
Shout joyfully to the Lord!
It is right for those who do right to praise God.
Sing to God a new song!
Because the Lord’s word is right,
Every act of God is done in good faith.
God loves righteousness and justice,
God’s faithful love fills the whole earth.
Our heart rejoices in God,
Because we trust God’s holy name.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Everlasting God, we confess that we are a fickle people. We demand that You save us. We cry out to You in our distress. Yet the moment we have comfort, the moment the storm we have faced is gone, we go back to our old, selfish ways. Like Your people, having been delivered from Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, we complain the moment things aren’t as we want them to be. Turn our hearts toward gratitude, O Faithful One. Remind us of how You have led us thus far and will continue to guide us through this life. Keep our hearts to Your steadfast love, not out of fear, but out of hope and gratitude. Guide us in Your ways of loving our neighbor as ourselves and in our love for one another may we have gratitude for all we have. You are a God of abundant love; may we be reminded of Your abundance in our lives, especially in this moments when life is difficult, when it feels we do not have enough. May the love of our neighbors overwhelm us and remind us of Your great love for us, and may we be called to share that love, building up Your Beloved Community on earth as it is in heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ, who laid down everything for us that we might have life, we pray. Amen.
The Faithful One is with us, now and always. There is no place we can hide, no place we can fade away, where God will not know us. God is beside us in the valleys of shadow and in the pastures of rest and safety. In gratitude, may we accept God’s forgiveness and grant others the same. In hope, may we love one another and know that we are loved. In mercy, may we repair and restore what has been broken so that others might help to repair and restore us when we are ready to fall apart. Beloveds, let us love one another. Amen.
Spirit of Life, help us to slow down and pause in awe and wonder at all You have done for us. The blades of grass under our feet. The dandelions that continue to grow back and bring forth seed. The green leaves above us, the blue sky that at times seems endless. May we breathe deep of Your love and grace and peace in our lives. May we stop for a moment and remember that You are the Creator of everything, down to the particles that make up the atoms that make us, all the way to the distant galaxies we can barely glimpse from a telescope. In Your magnificence, You somehow decided to make us in Your image and make us so that we might know just a fraction of who You are, our Wondrous Maker. If we can pause for a moment to be in awe of You, perhaps in that pause we can be filled with Your love for all the earth, all the creatures You have made, and all our siblings in humanity. In that pause, may we put down our weapons. May we turn our anger to the pursuit of love and justice. May we remember that all of us are here for only a blink of time, and may we hold on to that blink that is holy and precious by our willingness to give up the things of the world we have made, in order to cling to You and Your love. In the name of Christ, who laid it all down, everything of the world made by human beings, to show us Your love, Your truth, and Your life, we pray. Amen.