Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 and Psalm 14; Exodus 32:7-14 and Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Narrative Lectionary: Flood and Promise, Genesis 6:5-22; 8:6-12; 9:8-17 (Matthew 8:24-27)
The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures in the season after Pentecost follows the rise of the prophets, but in this second half of the season, the readings remain primarily in Jeremiah. Today’s reading speaks of Jeremiah’s prophesy of destruction. The people have turned away from God and turned to evil. The consequences of their actions result in utter desolation, of the land, the cities, the people, all of creation. Yet God’s promise of creation will break through. There will be a remnant, and there will be restoration. God is the God of life, not destruction, and life will always prevail.
Psalm 14 is another Wisdom song. The wisdom of God is found in following the commandments and teachings of God, but the foolish say there is no God. They turn to their own ways and do not do good. Those who take advantage of others, including committing acts of violence to others have followed other gods. However, God is with the faithful, the ones who stay true to God’s ways. The psalmist concludes that the people who trust in God will find salvation.
The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Exodus 32:7-14. Moses intercedes on behalf of the people, who have abandoned God and made a golden calf to worship, claiming the golden idols are their gods who led them out of Egypt. God wants Moses to step aside so God can destroy the people and make a new great nation from Moses. However, Moses refuses to step aside, reminding God that God is the one who brought the people out from oppression in Egypt. What will it say to Egypt, that they witness a God of liberation who then destroys the very people liberated? What will it say to other nations, that God delivered the people out of oppression only to destroy them before they reached the land God promised them? God changes their mind and does not destroy the people.
Psalm 51:1-10 is a song often attributed to David, for the psalmist confesses they have sinned. They want to be restored to God so they know they must come clean with all of it. God desires the truth and they desire restoration and the ability to receive joy again, so they call upon God to create in them a clean heart and a new and right spirit.
The Epistle readings follow 1 Timothy into 2 Timothy over the next few weeks. Paul confesses in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 that his former actions were not godly actions. He committed violence and persecuted others, and in doing so, was blasphemous against God. However, through Christ, Paul received mercy, and Paul sees himself as an example of the transformation possible through Jesus Christ, who came to save sinners.
The Gospel lesson is Luke 15:1-10. The remainder of this chapter is the parable known as the Prodigal Son, but it is not included in the Revised Common Lectionary this year. Instead, the focus is on these two smaller parables. After tax collectors and other sinners come to listen to Jesus, some of the Pharisees grumble that Jesus includes them and eats with them. Jesus was in actuality close to the Pharisees in belief and practice, including the belief of the resurrection of the dead. There were times when Jesus and the Pharisees bumped heads on differences, and this is one of those times where Jesus’s practice diverges from the others. In response, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. The truth is that a good shepherd would not leave ninety-nine others to find one lost sheep. To go after that one lost sheep is the opposite of what the world teaches, but Jesus teaches us that the lost one is just as important. In the story of the lost coin, the story is a bit different. The protagonist is a woman with power, which is unusual, and one coin would be worth a lot and worthy of searching and finding. However, the cost of celebrating with neighbors and friends would be extravagant. God’s grace and love is extravagant (and this leads into the father’s celebration of his son returning in the next parable). God’s love and grace does not make sense in a world where we want people to be punished for their wrongdoing. Even when they realize they have done wrong and wish to turn back, as a society we often want people to pay their dues. Christ erases those dues, embracing the lost, and celebrating their return to the way of God. God is both like a shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, and like a woman who finds a lost coin and celebrates with extravagant grace and mercy.
The Narrative Lectionary moves into the fall series in the Hebrew Scriptures on God’s Covenantal Promises, beginning with the story of Flood and Promise in Genesis 6:5-22, 8:6-12, and 9:8-17. Another sort of creation story, God re-creates the world with the family of Noah and the creatures who survived the flood. The symbol of God’s bow—God’s weapon—is hung up as a symbol that God will never again destroy the earth by flood. Natural disasters are not God’s wrath. God has promised this will not be so. God will not commit violence against the earth or humanity. God’s covenant is with all of creation, not just humanity. Rainbows appear in the midst of storms and after storms when sunlight appears—a reminder that the shadow and violence of the earth will not prevail. God will always see us through, and we must also remember the covenant and care for creation.
The companion verses, Matthew 8:24-27, share of the time Jesus was on a boat with his disciples when a violent storm came upon the boat, but Jesus was sleep. The disciples woke up Jesus, afraid, but Jesus asked them why they were afraid? He rebuked the wind and sea and a calm settled on them, and the disciples wondered who Jesus was, that the wind and seas obeyed him.
God is not a God of punishment, but a God of restoration. This does not mean we do not live with the consequences of our own actions. Time and again, when the people turned away from God, they had to live with their choices. When the leaders made poor political choices, they ended up in terrible conflicts, including exile, and those choices were often accompanied with a worship of other gods and the desolation of the poor. However, God is always offering restoration. God is always there for those who turn to God’s ways. Mercy, forgiveness, grace, and love are always present for those who turn to God, even when we have made mistakes. Holding people accountable for their actions is important, but God calls for a restorative society, not a punishing one, for God forgives and restores us, and leads us to eternal life. The work of restoration/reparation is not easy. It requires confession and commitment to do right and an openness to understanding the transformative power of God. However, God is always with us on this journey of healing and hope, in the work of restoration, and all of us are transformed when we engage in forgiveness and reparation.
Call to Worship
We come to this time and space with our brokenness,
We come knowing healing takes time and can be painful.
We come to this time and space with open minds,
We come to be challenged and to grow.
We come to this time and space in faithfulness,
Knowing God will never leave or abandon us.
Come, let us join in worship together,
For God will renew and restore us, now and always.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, You molded and shaped the earth for us, and established Your covenant with our ancestors. We have forgotten the covenant You made with us and with the earth and all of creation, turning to our own ways. We have misunderstood our role and have seen ourselves as having dominion and authority over creation and other people. We have misused resources and abused or neglected our neighbors instead of sharing Your love and building up Your reign on earth. Forgive us, O God, for not actively remembering to renew our covenants, with You, with one another, and with the earth. Call us into the work of reparation and healing, confessing our sins so we might receive forgiveness, sharing mercy so we might know mercy, and working together for reconciliation and restoration. For You are the Great Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of the Broken, the Binder of Wounds, the Great Healer. May we turn back to You, and remember Your covenant endures forever, as Your steadfast love remains with us eternally. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray all things. Amen.
God is the Great Restorer and Healer. God is always ready and waiting to embrace us, to care for us, and to remind us of the covenant to love one another, and the promise of eternal life. Live into God’s embrace, feel the Spirit moving, and know Christ is with you. Forgive, love, heal, and restore. Cultivate empathy, practice compassion, live into the work of restoration, and it shall go well with you. Share the good news of God’s love in Christ Jesus by living into it yourselves. Amen.
Loving One, we live in a world that pulls us in so many directions. We live in a world of trauma experiences, where depression and anxiety effect all of us in different times and various ways. May we know Your love never ends, and there is nothing that can ever separate us from Your love. Remind us to practice that compassionate, unconditional love for one another even when it is hardest to do, so that we might be reminded of Your unconditional, all-encompassing love. Help us to care for ourselves by seeking help when needed, through family and friends and medical professionals. Remind us how much we are loved and help us to remind others. Give us the courage to speak up and encourage others to seek help when needed, for we are not good as a society on speaking up for mental health care. Help us to erase the stigma, and to help one another, as You have helped us. We need each other, O God, as much as we need You, and we feel Your love in the love of one another. Amen and amen.
A Prayer for the Anniversary of September 11, 2001
God of Memory, it has been twenty-one years since that tragic, awful day, when so many lives were lost. We grieve with those who grieve. We lament with those who lament. We know that anger and frustration still comes from the aftermath of this day. Call us into repentance for the ways our responses, collectively or individually, may have led to hate of others, especially our Muslim neighbors. May our memories of this day challenge us to love our neighbor even more, to build up communities of hope and peace rather than hate and war. Call us into Your peacemaking ways, to pursue justice, to practice loving-kindness, and to live humbly as Your people, for You are our God. As memories fade, help us to pass on the lessons we have learned in twenty-one years so we may not repeat the mistakes of the past, but build a future of love, compassion, and peace. Amen.