Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Psalm 66:1-12; 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c and Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19
Narrative Lectionary: Covenant and Commandments, Exodus 19:3-7, 20:1-17 (Matthew 5:17)
As we follow Jeremiah in this first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, the prophet writes a letter in chapter 29 to the elders of Israel who are going into exile. God has not forgotten them. God tells them to build houses, plant houses, get married, have children and grandchildren. Pray for the welfare of the city they live in, he writes. It is God who has sent them into exile, and God will be with them even in a foreign land.
Psalm 66:1-12 is a song of praise to God who led the people out of their oppression in Egypt and into the land God promised them. All the earth worships God, and God used the earth, the dry soil, to bring the people out of enslavement. The people rejoiced and worshiped when God led them through. The psalmist turns to prayer, praising God who has led them through to safety, and though the people have been tested, the psalmist knows God will lead them to freedom.
The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to the story of Naaman and Elisha in 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c. Naaman was the commander of the king of Aram’s army, but he suffered from leprosy. Naaman’s wife had a servant, an Israelite girl who was taken captive, and this servant told Naaman’s wife about the prophet in Samaria (the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel) who could heal. The king of Aram wrote a letter to the king of Israel on behalf of Naaman, but the king of Israel freaked out, because he wasn’t God. Elisha, God’s prophet, told the king of Israel to calm down and to let Naaman come to him, because then he would know there was a prophet in Israel. Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house, and Elisha’s messenger told Elisha to go wash seven times in the Jordan and he would be clean. Naaman was angry because it was too simple. It had to be more complicated than that, otherwise he could have just bathed at home. Naaman’s servants reasoned with him: he would rather do something difficult, instead of a simple act for healing? Naaman gives in, bathes in the Jordan seven times, and his skin is restored. Naaman then realizes there is no God but God, the God of Israel.
Psalm 111 is a song of praise, reminding the congregation of all that God has done for them. God provides for those who are faithful, and God keeps the covenant with the people. Everything God does is faithful, just, and true. The beginning of wisdom, the psalmist writes, is the fear, or awe, of God. God is far beyond what we can possibly imagine or understand, and the wise understand this, giving God all the glory, honor, and praise.
Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:8-15 to urge Timothy not to forget the reason that Paul is suffering in prison is because of the Gospel. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and the resurrection cannot be contained, just like the word of God cannot be contained, either. Paul is enduring imprisonment because God cannot be imprisoned. Paul is in solidarity with Christ because Christ has been in solidarity with us, and even when we are faithless, Christ remains faithful. Paul urges Timothy to make an effort to speak plainly and faithfully and not get caught up when others want to debate words.
The Gospel lesson is Luke 17:11-19, when Jesus and the disciples passed between Samaria and Galilee. A group of ten lepers called out to him. Lepers were cut off from the rest of society as they were seen as unclean and might possibly be contagious. Jesus calls back to them to go show themselves to the priests. As they went on their way, the lepers realized they were made clean. One came back to Jesus, praising God, and fell at Jesus’s feet to thank him. He was a Samaritan, and he was the only one who came back to praise God. Jesus told him that his faith had made him well. This is the second time in Luke (the first is the Parable of the Good Samaritan in 10:25-37) that Jesus uses a Samaritan, an outsider, as an example of faithfulness from someone that the reader/listener would not expect.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Covenant and Commandments in Exodus 19 and 20. After arriving in the wilderness, the people of Israel came to Mt. Sinai, and Moses went up the mountain to speak with God. God told Moses that if the people were faithful and true to the covenant, they would be God’s most precious people out of the whole earth, a priestly nation serving on behalf of God. Moses went down the mountain and called together the elders of the people and shared God’s words with them. In 20:1-17, God shared the first ten commandments to Moses. The first four deal with how to worship God, the only God, the one God who brought them out of Egypt. The people were to honor God with their words as well as their lives through the practice of sabbath rest. The next six commandments were how Israel was to relate to each other: honoring elders, not killing, stealing, lying, committing adultery, and the very last one: a commandment to not even desire what others have. This last one was longer than the others because it was a reminder that the desire for what others have, instead of being satisfied with what we already have, is what leads us into the temptation to lie, cheat, kill, and dishonor others, and it dishonors God.
Jesus declared in Matthew 5:17 that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Matthew’s Gospel account emphasizes Jesus’s Jewishness, and that what he teaches is not against what Moses and the other prophets heard from God but is consistent with the prophets of old.
God is always with us. There are times when we feel God’s absence, when it seems that God could not exist for all the suffering and horror of the world. Yet we know that God has promised throughout scripture that God will always be with us. Even when the Israelites feel abandoned, God is reminding them they cannot ever be apart from God, even in a foreign land. Even when the world seems impossible, God is in the simple things, such as the air we breathe, or the waters that run through the rivers, for water is life. God is present with us in the everyday miracles, when things line up or work out when we didn’t expect them to, when the sun shines on a day that was forecast rain, when the winds die down after the storm. Sometimes it takes outsiders to show us that God is with all of us. Sometimes we need the reminders from others to be grateful, because we have taken God for granted.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 111:1-3, 10)
Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD.
With my whole heart, in the company of the congregation.
Great are the works of the LORD,
Studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is God’s work,
God’s righteousness endures forever.
The awe of God is the beginning of wisdom;
All those who practice it have a good understanding.
God’s praise endures forever.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we take Your love and presence with us for granted. We assume You are with us when life is going well for us, but when we face challenges and trials we cry out, wondering where You are. We confess that far too often we neglect gratitude and focus often on what we are lacking instead of where Your grace abounds. Forgive us, O God, for our short-sightedness. Remind us of the love You have shown us, through the love and care of others. Cultivate in us Your compassion and empathy and remind us to be gentle with one another and ourselves, for we are fragile treasure in clay jars, easily breakable, and yet precious to You. Holy One, Maker of us all, remind us never to take You or others for granted, and to remember Your deep love for us is in our very breath. Amen.
God’s steadfast love endures forever, and never fails us. God’s love renews and restores us. When we love others, we feel God’s love in us. When we care for others, God cares for us. When we show compassion to others, we remember God’s mercy for us. You are loved. You are cared for. You are forgiven and restored. Go and share the good news with one another. Amen.
Almighty Creator, You have molded and shaped us in Your image, and yet we do not understand You. We seek You but fail to comprehend how wonderful and awe-inspiring You are and the world You have made. Far too often we make You in our own image, O God, distorting who You really are and trying to shape You into who we want You to be, but You are the Almighty, God Most High, and cannot be contained. Great Creator, instead we pray You might mold us and shape us into who You need us to be. Mold and shape our hearts to be full of Your love for the world. Lead us into Your ways, to grow in wisdom and insight on the journey of faith. Amen.