Revised Common Lectionary: Job 38:1-7 (34-41); Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c; Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
Narrative Lectionary: God Calls Samuel, 1 Samuel 3:1-21 (John 20:21-23)
God answered Job from the whirlwind in chapter 38. After thirty-six chapters of Job arguing with his friends (and a stranger who happens along for the last few chapters) and Job questioning God, God finally responded. Job demanded answers from God about why he suffered. To Job, God appeared absent, but to God, God had been active all around him. While Job questioned God for the chaos in his life, God responded from the heart of chaos, the whirlwind. God was not angry that Job had questions, but rather Job asked the wrong kind of questions. The questions God asked Job are the very questions Job ought to have been asking all along. Instead, Job was busy wanting to know why he had suffered, as if it was personal, while God was busy with the universe.
Psalm 104 is an epic poem or song praising God for creation. This psalm invokes God as the one whose home is in the heavens, whose sovereignty is over the entire universe. God overcomes the elements of chaos, using wind and fire to communicate as messengers, and sets the boundaries of the waters on earth. God creates out of wisdom, creating the diversity of life on earth.
Isaiah 53:4-12 is one of the Suffering Servant passages, in which the people of Israel are personified as the servant of God who has suffered. Israel suffered and carried the sufferings of all people. In the worldview at the time, suffering was seen as punishment. Here, Isaiah portrayed Israel’s suffering as a way for all people to understand how God can work through suffering, how God does not abandon those who suffer but will see them through.
Psalm 91:9-16 is a blessing of God’s protection. God will protect those who are faithful and deliver them from danger. God will answer those who call out to God in faithfulness. This psalm is quoted by Satan to Jesus in the temptation in the wilderness, but Jesus rebukes Satan, for this is not to be used to test God, but rather this is a prayer for the faithful to have assurance of God’s protection and deliverance.
The Epistle reading continues its series in Hebrews with 5:1-10. The author of Hebrews declares Jesus as the high priest, referencing Melchizedek, a priest mentioned in Psalm 110:4, who blessed Abraham back in Genesis 14:8. There was a tradition that because Melchizedek’s death was not mentioned in scripture, he had lived forever. And because he was a priest who had blessed Abraham, his priestly line was also valid forever, according to the author of Hebrews. God had appointed Jesus as both high priest and sacrifice, the one who offered forgiveness and prayed on behalf of the people before his death, solidifying his role as a priest, according to the author.
James and John come to Jesus and ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands in glory in Mark 10:35-45. Though they are the sons of Zebedee, in Mark 3:17 Jesus nicknamed the two the “sons of Thunder.” They seem to be impulsive. In Luke 9:54, after a Samaritan village refuses to receive Jesus, James and John ask Jesus if he wants them to call down fire from heaven to consume them. Jesus ends up rebuking them at that time. In this passage, Jesus tells them that they don’t know what it is they are asking of him. They don’t understand what it means to drink from the cup Jesus drinks from or the baptism he is baptized with. They don’t understand what Jesus’ destiny and judgment means. And the other disciples become angry with them for even asking about it. However, Jesus tells the disciples that it isn’t about arguing who is greatest because that’s what those concerned about rank and privilege do. Instead, they are friends with one another, and friends serve one another, laying down their life for each other. Whoever wants to be great will serve one another and meet the needs of their friends, for Christ came to serve all by laying down his life.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on God’s calling of the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:1-21. Samuel had been dedicated to God by his mother Hannah, after she had prayed for a long time hoping to have a child. Eli the priest was raising Samuel in the temple at Shiloh. One night, the boy Samuel heard God calling him, but he thought it was Eli, so he went to Eli and woke him up. But Eli didn’t call for him and told him to go lie back down. This happens three times before Eli recognizes that Samuel did hear someone, and it must be God. He instructs Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” and Samuel obeys. God speaks through Samuel and foretells what is to happen, for Eli’s own sons serving in the temple are corrupt. God is bringing judgment to Eli’s household because of it. Though it is harsh, Eli accepts what Samuel has said, trusting that God is speaking through Samuel, for God said their words would cause the ears of all who heard it to tingle. God continued to speak through Samuel as he grew up, and all of Israel knew they could trust Samuel as the prophet of God.
Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection in John 20:21-23. Jesus breathes on the disciples and instructs them to receive the Holy Spirit. As God has sent him, so he is sending the disciples out, letting them know they have the power to forgive sins.
We think we know the way. We know the way to a successful, content, happy life, and yet we find ourselves longing for something else. The world tricks us into chasing happiness. The world tricks us into believing that if someone has suffered, they must have done something to deserve it. Scripture shows us, from Isaiah to Job, that suffering is not from God, but that God is with us when we suffer. We do not go it alone. We can find hope despite our suffering. However, looking for a world of ease, to escape suffering, is not the way either. James and John think they know the way of Christ, but they are still caught up on a world of princes and rulers; their desire to sit at the right and left hand of Christ in his reign shows they don’t understand Christ’s reign at all. Jesus wasn’t speaking about a future kingdom, but the community that they shared right there, to serve one another, to meet one another’s needs as he was serving them. This is how we find the way—not chasing after some lofty ideal of what we think it means to be successful, but in serving one another as Christ served us.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 104:1-2a, 24, 35c)
Bless the LORD, O my soul.
O LORD our God, You are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
Wrapped in light as with a garment.
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your creatures.
Praise the Lord!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, Maker of the Universe, we confess that our heads are turned down and we are focused only on what is in front of us. We have a hard time breaking out of the cycle of this world that pushes us to achieve monetary success and gaining of possessions as a way of happiness. Guide us back to Your ways, in which we are called to love You and love one another, as You have loved us. Remind us that Your reign is not of this world, and that the beloved community You are building on earth is one in which we serve one another and meet the needs of each other. For we find that when we seek to care for one another, our own needs are met. When we love one another, we are loved, and we know Your love more deeply. Bring us back to Your way, Your truth, and Your life, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
God’s steadfast love endures forever. There is no end to God’s faithfulness, and when we seek God, we find God is already among us. Know God’s love in your love for one another. Know God’s forgiveness as you forgive one another, seek to repair what has been broken and reconcile whenever possible. Know God’s peace as you center your lives on God’s love and share God’s love with the world. Amen.
Amazing One, we cannot count the stars, we cannot see atoms, we cannot perceive the galaxies and how it all began except by our imagination and wonder. Yet we know You have set things in motion. We continue to learn and discover new and exciting things. Help us to foster curiosity and imagination and dreams. Remind us that Your ways of wisdom is to seek understanding by being in awe of Your work in the universe. Help us to let go of our need to have answers, but stir in us the courage to ask questions. Help us to shift our mindsets so that we might spend more time in wonder and delight instead of worry and fear. Amen.