Revised Common Lectionary: Joel 2:23-32 and Psalm 65; Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 and Psalm 84:1-7; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Narrative Lectionary: David and Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 11:1-5, 26-27; 12:1-9; Psalm 51:1-9 (Matthew 21:33-41)
The first selection in the Hebrew Scriptures follows the rise of the prophets in this season after Pentecost. Liturgically, as Christians move toward Reign of Christ Sunday, the readings of the prophets turn to the day of the Lord, the day of judgment. Each prophet envisioned this in their own way. The prophet Joel envisioned a time when the harvest would be plentiful and their vats overflowing, a repayment for all the people had lost, especially for those of the holy city of Jerusalem, destroyed at the beginning of exile. All among them, old and young, would dream and behold visions and the young would prophesy, full of God’s spirit. However, there will also be signs of destruction before the day of judgment. Nonetheless, all those in Jerusalem, all who call upon God’s name, will be saved.
Psalm 65 is a song of praise to God who answers prayer. Those who seek closeness to God are blessed, for God has delivered them. The psalmist praises God, who both dwells in the temple and is active in the entire world, for God established the mountains and bound the seas. God crowns the year with its bounty of harvest, and the meadows and pastures overflow with God’s blessings.
The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22. Jeremiah attempts to intercede on behalf of the people, but God responds to their faithlessness. Jeremiah prayed for God to not abandon them like a stranger who does not know them. Though the people have been rebellious, Jeremiah pleads for God to intervene. Jeremiah argues that God shouldn’t be surprised at the people’s behavior, because God has been with them. However, God allows the people to live with the consequences of their actions. If they turn away from God, God will not be with them. Jeremiah refuses to give up and pleads again for God to intervene. The people confess they have sinned. They have not been faithful. But there is no other God who can provide for the people, no other God who can bring rain where there is drought. God is their only hope.
Psalm 84:1-7 praises God for the beauty of the temple, where God has chosen to dwell among the people. Even birds dwell in the temple of God and sing praise in their way. For those who choose to be in the temple and to make their home with God, they find God’s blessings, and God is known to the people in Zion.
The Epistle reading concludes its series in 1-2 Timothy with 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18. Paul wraps up his letters to Timothy, knowing that he himself will most likely die in prison, and feels assured that he has done all he can for God’s glory and not his own. Paul was given strength, even in prison, to proclaim the gospel and turn the hearts of Gentiles to Jesus. Paul is assured that he was spared death thus far to do God’s work and he is ready to be with God. He sees his own life as an example and inspiration for Timothy and others to continue the Gospel work on earth.
The readings in Luke focus on parables for a second week in a row. Last week was the parable of the widow and the unjust judge, this week it is the parable of the two men who went to pray in Luke 18:9-14. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. In this story, Jesus uses the Pharisee as an example of someone who is smug in their own religiosity. It is always a good reminder that Jesus did not see all Pharisees this way, and back in Luke 13:31 some Pharisees warned Jesus to steer clear of Jerusalem because Herod wanted to kill him. But in this parable, Jesus is flipping the common narrative on its head. A tax collector would be despised in society as someone who was working for the Roman government to extort money. One of their own people working for the very empire. The Pharisee would be seen as someone holy, working for God. Instead, it is the Pharisee who fills the temple with empty words attempting to justify himself and the tax collector who shows true repentance before God. It is important to look at verse 9 for the context: Jesus was telling this parable to those among his own followers who thought they were holier than others.
The Narrative Lectionary turns to a lesson on the power of parables, when the prophet Nathan tells a parable to expose David’s sin. In 2 Samuel 11, David didn’t go off to war as kings usually did, and instead he ended up having the wife of one of his soldiers sent to him to sleep with her. Lest we think Bathsheba had any say in the matter, refusing a king usually resulted in death. In the intervening verses David tried to cover up Bathsheba’s pregnancy but Uriah was such a faithful solider he would not go home to his wife, so David had Uriah’s death staged on the battlefield. However, David didn’t get away with it. God sent the prophet Nathan to David and told a parable of a rich and a poor man, and how when the rich man had a visitor come to visit, instead of killing one of his own lambs for dinner, he took the poor man’s only lamb for himself. David was quite upset about this story, believing it to be real, until Nathan revealed that the rich man was David, and that he had taken Uriah’s wife as his own and had Uriah killed, though David was already married several times over. Note that Bathsheba, like other women of that time period, are seen as the property of the men they are married to, without a say in what happened to them.
Psalm 51:1-9 is partnered with this reading as it has long been attributed to David, a song of confession of sin. The psalmist confesses their sin before God, that it cannot be hidden, for even if no one else knows, God knows, and God will expose our wrongdoings. The psalmist calls upon God to cleanse them of their sin, to receive forgiveness and absolution for what they have done, so they may once again experience joy.
The supplementary text is Matthew 21:33-41, when Jesus told a parable of tenant farmers, who seized the land from the owner, beat his servants and killed others. Then the landowner sent his son, believing the tenants would respect him, but they killed him, too. Jesus asked the listeners what they though the owner of the vineyard would do. The listeners were outraged. They declared the vineyard would be taken from those tenants and given to others who would do what they were contracted to do. In the verses following, Jesus then reveals the parable is about them: the kingdom of God is going to be taken from them because they did not do what they had covenanted to do with God.
Stories have power. They teach us lessons that may be right in front of us, but we cannot see it until we look at it more objectively. When we see ourselves from a different point of view, we can see where we haven’t been faithful to God’s ways. When it feels like the world is against us, that is all we know—we are right and others are wrong and they are severely wronging us. But when we look at things from a different view, a global view—we see that we all at times struggle in our own faithfulness. Though we might face one form of oppression, we may be oppressing others and not recognizing our places of privilege. While most of us are not a David, many of us might be a self-righteous religious person, as in the parable Jesus told with the tax collector. We may know someone whom we think could not possibly be in relationship with God and yet they come before God knowing they want to change while we think we don’t need to change. Parables are specific stories with moral points, but all of Scripture can be seen as stories that teach us, when we put ourselves in the shoes of others, that we may not have the whole truth from our perspective.
Call to Worship
Open our minds, O God, to new understandings;
Open our minds, Wise One, to learn from You.
Open our hearts, O God, to Your love in the world;
Open our hearts, Loving Christ, to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Open us from within, O God, to the people in need around us.
Open us up, Holy Spirit, when we want to focus on our own survival.
God of Opening Doors, Your Spirit is moving in us,
Open our minds, open our hearts, open ourselves to Your people,
And may we worship You in the fullness of who we are.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God Who Knows, we come before You confessing that we often hide the truth from ourselves. We hide the truth that we know so little of You and the universe You have made. We judge others to standards we never hold ourselves to. Even in the name of love we have occasionally allowed ourselves to hate others instead of hating the evil that is in this world, that shapes people away from Your intention, and that includes ourselves. Forgive us, O God, for our hate that enters our hearts and causes others harm. Forgive us, O God, for judging others instead of ourselves. Call us into accountability, Loving One, when we do not acknowledge the truth and deceive ourselves. We seek Your forgiveness. Cleanse us from our sin and purify our hearts to be free of hatred and instead full of love, for it is only love that will transform the world. Amen.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” -John 14:27
Know Christ’s peace in your life, and know Christ’s forgiveness. Do not give as the world gives, but love one another, forgive one another, and live into Christ’s ways in this world, of love, justice, and peace. Amen.
God of Transformation, as the seasons change, we give You thanks that things do not stay the same. That we ourselves cannot stay static. You change the world around us and You change our hearts within. May we be open to the ways the Spirit is moving us to change, O God. May we be open to the need to change for others, to make space and room for those who have not had places made for them. May we take notice of what is growing and what is dying, and give thanks for both, O God, for out of death comes new life. Even as we grieve what we have known, You are making all things new. Transform our hearts, O God, to be ready for what You are preparing to make new. Amen.