Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 18:1-11, Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Psalm 1; Philemon; Luke 14:25-33
Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ruth, Chapter 4 (Luke 1:46-55)
The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures has followed the rise of the prophets, and as we enter the second half of this season after Pentecost, we remain with the prophet Jeremiah for several weeks. God is warning the people through Jeremiah one more time that if they turn from their evil ways, they might prevent the disaster they have brought upon themselves. Using the image of the potter at the wheel, God can remake the people of Jerusalem and Judah. God can reshape them if they allow it. Otherwise, if the pottery is spoiled, it is of no use and must be smashed down, in order to be made into something new.
Psalm 139 is often paired with readings from Jeremiah because the prophet, like the author of Psalm 139, was called by God before they were born. The psalmist poetically describes their relationship with God who knows them intimately. God discerns all their thoughts and feelings and there is no place they can go where God will not be, not even in death. This psalm is in the Wisdom tradition, a collection of writings throughout the scriptures that convey how impossible it is to know or understand God, yet the praise and awe of God is the beginning of understanding. The psalmist, in sharing their musings, comes to knowledge that they cannot possibly know everything, but they know God is with them.
Moses reminds the people before his death that they have a choice in Deuteronomy 30:15-20. As they prepare to enter the land promised to them, ending their wilderness journey, they can choose to follow God’s ways and commandments, and they will know God’s blessings. However, if they choose their own path and follow other gods, they will lead to dead ends and they will not receive what God has promised them. Moses urges the people to choose life, to choose God, to choose the right way as promised to their ancestors, so their descendants will know God’s blessings forever.
Psalm 1 is also a Wisdom psalm, teaching that those who follow God’s ways and commandments are deeply rooted and watered and will bear fruit. They will face the winds and not wither; they will be alive and flourish. Those who do not listen to God are like chaff blown about by the wind. They will not be able to stand with the faithful because they are all over the place, following other gods and other paths leading to dead ends, but those who trust in God are watched over by God.
The Epistle readings shifts to Philemon, the shortest book in the Bible and possibly the last letter Paul wrote. Paul wrote on behalf of Onesimus, enslaved in Philemon’s household. Paul was sending Onesimus back to Philemon to carry this letter and encourage Philemon through the use of rhetoric to accept Onesimus as a member of the family, as he was a part of Christ’s family. Of course Philemon, if he believes that Paul is a brother, would also welcome Onesimus as a brother since Paul has accepted him. Of course Philemon would love Onesimus because Paul is confident in Christ that Philemon will do the right thing. This use of rhetoric makes it impossible for Philemon to reject Paul’s wishes and treat Onesimus as a slave unless he is willing to reject Christ. Paul’s letter serves as an example to all believers that if they believe in Christ and that we are all part of the body of Christ, all children of God through Christ, then we cannot treat others any differently. We cannot hold the boundaries of slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female, or any other differentiation as a weapon of division against one another, because all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). We must speak boldly against oppression and injustice.
The Gospel lesson of Luke 14:25-33 speaks about what holds us back from following Christ, and that sometimes division is necessary. Consistent with Paul, difference is not to be used as a weapon of division, but that division does happen when we choose Christ over the world. The footnote on 14:26 in The CEB Study Bible suggests that possibly family members had accused the disciples of hating them as they left their homes to follow Jesus. Choosing Jesus may mean choosing to follow Jesus over the expectations and desires of others. Jesus further states that those who do not carry the cross and follow him cannot be his disciple. They must be willing to put to death the hold this world has on them. Jesus then tells two short stories: the first begins with imagining that if you were to build a tower, you’d first sit down and figure out how much it costs before building, or otherwise you might run out of money and have an incomplete tower. The second is told more like a parable: a king going off to war would discern whether he will win or lose by the strength of the armies. If he knows he will lose, he will attempt to make peace beforehand rather than lose it all. Jesus then concludes by saying no one can be his disciple if they are unwilling to give up their possessions. We must weigh the cost, and if we value the things of this world over Jesus, we cannot follow him. We cannot allow the things of this world that we have created to have a hold on us, and that includes the traditions and expectations of families to create and build wealth for inheritance. To give that up would amount to hatred of family in order to be Jesus’s disciple.
The Narrative Lectionary concludes its series on Ruth with chapter four. In the bold actions of faith that we have witnessed of Ruth and Naomi in the first three chapters, it is now Boaz’s turn. He fulfills his commitment to Ruth to settle the matter of the close kinsmen, acting on Naomi’s behalf in selling the portion of the field that belonged to her husband. The other, closer kinsmen at first is ready to buy it, but when he learns he would also have to marry Ruth and provide children for Naomi’s husband’s line, he then refuses. It would harm his own inheritance because of the cultural family obligations. Boaz is then free to marry Ruth. Even though the children will be seen as part of Naomi’s husband Elimelech’s family line, Boaz accepts the responsibility in front of the entire town. The town in turn blesses Boaz and his new family because he has taken this bold responsibility, sacrificing his own gain to help Naomi and her family. He marries Ruth, and Ruth has a son, Obed, who becomes the grandfather of David. However, it is Naomi, who was once called Bitter, who also rejoices, for Ruth has provided the family for her that was lost.
Luke 1:46-55 contains Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, rejoicing in what God was doing through her by raising up a mighty savior. Paired with Ruth 4, both passages celebrate women who said yes to God and were willing to help birth God’s hope into the world. Ruth is named in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1.
Doing the right thing is not always the respectable thing. Much may have been made of Ruth’s boldness to find Boaz at night on the threshing floor. Mary probably underwent humiliation as an unwed young mother, and we know Joseph planned to dismiss her quietly when she was found to be with child. Moses warned the people what would happen if they didn’t choose God’s ways, but he didn’t warn them what would happen if they did—he only shared the good parts. Jesus, however, shows the disciples that they will face persecution and rejection by even their own families. In order to follow Jesus, one must be willing to risk the fortunes we have created: worldly wealth and power and notoriety. If we live boldly, as Paul did, and speak truth to power and dismantle oppression, we will be hated by the world, but through Christ we are saved.
Call to Worship
Seek the wisdom of God,
Come, learn the commandments, and take them to heart.
Listen to the Holy Spirit,
Come, and practice justice and loving-kindness.
Follow the way of Christ,
Come, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Find that the door is open,
Come, and worship God together.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Justice and Mercy, we come before You in humility. We have made too much of ourselves and have neglected our neighbors in need. We have sought our own gain and discarded the earth You created for us and all living creatures. We have pursued the pleasures of this world we made and have found that wealth and notoriety and worldly power will never satisfy us and lead us to dead ends. Turn us back, O God, to Your ways of justice and mercy. Have compassion on us, O God, and break open our hearts to love one another. Guide us, O God, into Your truth and grace, that we might repair what we have broken and care for what we have disdained, to help renew the bountiful earth for all of creation and for the future generations You have yet to call into existence. Bless us, O God, as we repent and seek forgiveness. Amen.
Jesus is calling our names, for the sheep know the shepherd’s voice. Listen and respond. Call each other’s names in love and forgive one another. Participate in the restoring work of God in this world, and it shall go well with you. Follow the commandments, take them to heart, and know that God loves you more than anything. God is leading you to the still waters and cool pastures, and will always be with you, even in the valley of the shadow, and will dwell with you forever. Amen.
Glorious God, we praise You for the turning of the year. As many students return to school, we pray for their safety and well-being. We pray for the friendships that will be formed, that they may be strong and encouraging. We pray for those who feel left out, that they will know You are with them, and we pray for open hearts to reach out. We pray for teachers and staff, for bus drivers and nurses and crossing guards and administrators and counselors. We ask for Your protection and mercy. May all be gentle with one another. May all students learn to lift up one another, and may all adults grant grace and peace when conflicts and stress arise. May all of us in the greater community extend a helping hand, an open mind, and generous hearts wanting to help and heal. This is an exciting and difficult time of year, and we pray, O God, that Your presence is made known to us all, as students, disciples, of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.