Worship Resources for September 3, 2023—Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 3:1-15 and Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b; Jeremiah 15:15-21 and Psalm 26:1-8; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Creeds, Acts 2:1-18 and Matthew 28:17-20, or Series on Sabbath, Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 7-11 and Luke 15:11-32

In the second half of the season after Pentecost, the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures follows the people of Israel, from oppression into liberation. In Exodus 3:1-15, God is revealed to Moses through Moses’s encounter of the burning bush at Mount Horeb, a place so holy God instructs Moses to remove his shoes. God is revealed to be the same God of their ancestors, who led Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and all their descendants long ago and will now lead them out of Egypt and into freedom. However, Moses is skeptical, first of his own ability, and then wondering if the people will know who God is. God replies to Moses’s question about God’s name with, “I AM.” God’s name is a verb. God’s name is Being. God also instructs Moses to tell the people that this is the God of their ancestors from even before they entered Egypt. God has not forgotten the people, even if they may have forgotten.

Psalm 105 is a song of praise to God, giving thanks and remembering what God has done through the people’s ancestors. In verse 6, the psalmist specifically refers to the people as descendants of Abraham, children of Jacob. In verses 23-26, the psalmist turns to the story of the people of Israel living and thriving in Egypt, and when they became a hated people, God sent Moses and Aaron to help them. The psalmist concludes with a word of praise to God.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to the prophet Jeremiah 15:15-21. The prophet did what God commanded, said what he was told. The words of God that were a delight to Jeremiah did not bring joy once Jeremiah spoke them, for the people in authority did not heed them. Therefore, the prophet laments, bringing a complaint to God. God’s response, however, is if Jeremiah turns back to God and continues to speak for God, God will continue to be with him, and will deliver him from evil.

Psalm 26 is a plea to God for justice and deliverance. In verses 1-8, the psalmist knows they are innocent and have stayed true to God’s ways. They have not fallen astray and will not even keep company with those who do evil, let alone hypocrites. They remain faithful to God and sing God’s praise, and they love being in the presence of God.

Romans 12:9-21 contain Paul’s instructions to the church in Rome on how to live in community. Continuing the Epistle series, Paul has instructed the Roman Christians who are both Jewish and Gentile how to live among the greater community that doesn’t follow Jesus: caring for each other, but also extending hospitality to strangers, living in peace as much as possible, sharing in each other’s joys and sorrows. They are not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good—for their very lives also witness to Christ.

The Gospel lesson continues in Matthew 16:21-28. In last week’s reading of 16:13-20, Jesus asked the disciples who the people said he was. When Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus praised Peter and declared that the church would be built upon that foundation of faith. But in the next breath, we find that when Jesus began to speak about how he would be betrayed, how he would suffer and die, and on the third day rise, we find that this isn’t what Peter signed up for. Peter pulled Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. Imagine having the guts to do that! But we make God into the image of what we want, not who God really is, all the time. Peter had an idea of what the Messiah was supposed to be, and until this point, Peter’s imagination and Jesus lined up. But at this moment, when Jesus reveals what will happen, Peter believes he can change the outcome. The faith Peter thought he had was in himself, giving the right answer, instead of faith in Jesus. Jesus rebuked Peter with the famous words, “Get behind me Satan!” and went on to teach that whoever wants to become a follower of Jesus must deny themselves—and deny any image of God that we might make—take up our cross (whatever we need to put to death that is holding us back) and follow him. Jesus says this to his disciples—who have already been following him! But if Peter didn’t get it, Jesus knew the others might have a different idea of what the Messiah was supposed to be. If we make the image of the Messiah into what we want, then we have lost our way. But if we are willing to set aside what it is we want, what it is we desire God to do, and instead seek God’s will, then we might find our lives.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes both of its late summer series, on Creeds and Sabbath.

The series on Creeds is completed with the story of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-18, and Jesus’ final words and Great Commission in Matthew 28:17-20. In the story of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, and Peter boldly proclaimed to all that had gathered for the festival that the Holy Spirit, as prophesied through the prophet Joel, was at work. God was doing something new out of something very old. With Jesus’ Great Commission, the disciples are sent out into the world to make disciples, to baptize, and to do the work of the Holy Spirit. They are reminded that Christ is always with them.

The series on Sabbath finishes with the concept of the sabbatical year in Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 7-11—a year of sabbath after six years. God calls upon the people to forgive debts, to give willingly to their neighbor in need, and to free the Hebrew neighbors enslaved to them in the seventh year. The Gospel passage is the parable of the Forgiving Father or Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32, and though the younger son had squandered everything, the father forgave him. The other son was indignant, but the father tells him they had to welcome home the son that was lost, who was dead, and is now alive and found.

Follow God is never easy. Jeremiah struggled, because what he said on behalf of God was at odds with what the political and religious leaders wanted. Peter thought he knew who Jesus was as the Messiah, but it was clear he did not understand when Jesus said he would give up his own life, and Peter still didn’t understand when Jesus said that whoever wished to follow him must deny themselves and take up their cross. Moses was skeptical about following God because he didn’t think anyone would believe him. Paul suggested in Romans that one way we follow God is how we live among others who are different than us, who do not believe in Jesus, by sharing God’s love through our actions. We remember it took until the day of Pentecost for Peter to finally understand—and even then, he still stumbled (see Galatians in Paul’s argument against him). He still didn’t get it until he had a vision from God and an encounter with the Roman Centurion Cornelius in Acts 10. We’re never going to fully get it. We’re always going to stumble in trying to make God in our own image. We are always going to struggle with speaking and living into Christ’s ways. But we try, and try, and try again. Even Jeremiah got called by God to turn back to God’s ways. No one is perfect. We keep trying, anyway. God still shows up despite our imperfections and reminds us that we are not alone.

Call to Worship (Psalm 105:1-5a, 45b)
O give thanks to the LORD, call on God’s name,
Make known God’s deeds among the peoples.
Sing to God, sing praises to God;
Tell of all God’s wonderful works.
Glory in God’s name;
Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Seek the LORD and God’s strength;
Seek God’s presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works God has done.
Praise the Lord!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God who Guides Us, we confess that like the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, we are often running after the wind and trying to hold on to something that isn’t really there. We look to the world’s pleasures and power, rather than the needs of the most vulnerable among us. We seek our own gain over the cries of the marginalized and oppressed. We ignore the systems and structures of the world that cause harm to others when they benefit us. Forgive us for our short-sightedness. Forgive us for going astray. Forgive us for not listening to the words You have passed down to us, the spirit of those words that causes us to set aside our own selfishness and live into Your way, Your truth, and Your life. In the name of Jesus Christ, may we listen, may we deny the temptations of the world, and may we take up our cross to follow You. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (Lamentations 3:22-23)
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
Great is God’s faithfulness, who renews us day by day, offers us forgiveness moment by moment, and calls our name with every breath. May we turn back to God’s ways and know God’s forgiveness and restoration for our lives, and may we seek to repair and restore the world to God’s intention, with justice, mercy, and love. Amen.

Ancient of Days, may the stories of our ancestors continue to remind us we do not have to be perfect. May our ancestors inspire us to stick to Your ways, and to turn back when we notice we have gone astray. May our ancestors also inspire us to learn from their mistakes, so we may not repeat them. We know You are doing a new thing, O God, something we cannot fathom, but in turning to the Scriptures we are reminded to be awake and ready, to trust when we feel the Spirit moving, and be prepared to step out in faith. May we not forget those who have walked before us, but may we trust You in moving forward on a new path. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

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