Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 and Psalm 19; Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 80:7-15; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46
Narrative Lectionary: Hear O Israel, Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9 (Mark 12:28-31)
Both the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures for the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary focuses on the Ten Commandments. While the Narrative Lectionary looks to Deuteronomy and the connection with the Shema as part of the community in preparation for entering the Promised Land, the Revised Common Lectionary, as part of its series on the ancestors of the faith, is on the first giving of the law, when the people were new to the wilderness and only beginning to understand themselves as God’s people. Exodus 20:1-4 and 7 teach that there is only one God, and the people are to worship no other gods. They are not to make idols, nor misuse God’s name. Verses 8-9 teach that keeping the Sabbath is a way to honor God, and they are to remember it each week. Verses 12-17 are about how to live in this new community: honor one’s family, especially one’s parents, and remain faithful in relationships. Don’t lie, kill, steal—don’t want what others have. The people were afraid when God spoke, but Moses told them to not be afraid, only follow God’s ways.
Psalm 19 praises God for both God’s work in creation and in the law. Creation is orderly, and even the sun rises like a bridegroom ready for their wedding day. The sun was often associated with ancient deities and the psalmist links God to the sun, who lights and brings warmth, but also brings the law. As creation is orderly, so is God’s law. God’s teachings are more valuable than any worldly pleasure, they are their own reward. But the psalmist knows they may stumble, they may have erred unknowingly, and they ask God to keep them safe from going astray. The psalmist concludes with the famous meditation of seeking God’s acceptance for their words and meditations.
The second selection for the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard. This song, or parable, speaks of God’s relationship with the people during the time of First Isaiah, and Judah was not keeping to God’s ways. God has done everything to keep the people save and to help them thrive, but they have chosen to go wild and follow other gods and live their own ways. Therefore, God will let Judah go wild. Like a vineyard that has had its hedges and walls destroyed and where weeds and brambles overgrow, so too will Judah struggle with the nations surrounding them. Because they do not stay true to God’s teachings, they will make poor political choices and violence will overtake the land, instead of justice and righteousness as God intended.
Psalm 80:7-15 also uses the image of the vine and vineyard. In this part of the psalm, the author sings of how God brought a vine out of Egypt, the chosen people out of their oppression. But the psalmist asks why God has broken down the walls and allowed others to take its fruit. The author pleads with God to have compassion and take care of this vine, because God did plant it with a purpose. God did call this people out of Egypt not to be destroyed later, but to survive and thrive.
The Epistle readings continue in the letter to the Philippians, now in the third chapter. Paul reminded the church in Philippi to stay true to the call of the Gospel and the promise of resurrection, and not be swayed by the teaching of some Jewish followers of Jesus that required circumcision. Paul himself was circumcised, and was even a Pharisee, but he didn’t regard any of his background or previous positions as important to the cause of Christ. Rather, his sufferings (especially as he was in prison while he wrote this letter) taught him more about Christ. Paul knew he hadn’t seen the fulfillment of Christ’s promises, but he persevered in his pursuit, leaving behind what he once knew for the promise of Christ, the promise of resurrection.
Jesus told a parable of a landowner who planted a vineyard in Matthew 21:33-46. While there are echoes of Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard, in this parable it is the behavior of the people that is of concern: how the tenant farmers treat the servants sent by the landowner—beating some, killing others. The landowner then sent his son, believing they would respect him. They wouldn’t dare harm the son of the landowner. But they took him, threw him out, and killed him. This was not the intention of the landowner, that his son would die—the landowner’s intention was that the tenant farmers would listen and do what they were supposed to do in caring for the vineyard. However, when Jesus asked those listening what they think the landowner would do, they answered that they thought the landowner would put those tenants to death and lease the vineyard to someone else. Jesus then quoted Psalm 118, that the stone rejected has become the cornerstone, and told those gathered in the temple that the kingdom of God would be taken from them and given to a people that produced the fruit of the kingdom. The religious leaders knew Jesus was speaking about them. While Jesus’s words are harsh to those gathered, Jesus also makes it clear that God’s intention is not for harm. God’s intention was not to send the son to die. God’s intention is that all people would turn back to God’s ways, to live into God’s reign here and now.
The Narrative Lectionary, as mentioned before, also turns to the Ten Commandments, this time in Deuteronomy 5:1-21. Moses reminds the people of the covenant made by God at Horeb, remembering God’s words to the people. Moses also recalls how the people were afraid of God, so Moses stood between God and the people and received the words from God directly. In 6:4-9, Moses gives what is known as the Shema, the call to prayer, the commandment to love God with all one’s being. These words are to be recited and remembered, passed down and kept at the forefront of one’s mind always.
In the supplementary verses of Mark 12:28-31, Jesus was debating with other rabbis, and a scribe who recognized that Jesus responded well asked the question of which was the greatest commandment. Jesus responded with the Shema, the call to prayer.
What is at the heart of who we are? Is it our identity as God’s child, as God’s people, as God’s community? Or is it what others think of us, what other nations think of us, what the world thinks of us? The leaders of Judah were more enthralled with the practices of other nations, the worship of other gods and making political alliances that were good for them but not for the most vulnerable among them, than they were about following God’s ways. Jesus’s own parable speaks to what happens when people want power for themselves instead of looking to God as the authority and power. Paul reminded the people that it wasn’t what people thought of him from his background or profession or even his social position that was important, it was that he understood Christ’s suffering in his own suffering. He understood the promise of resurrection as a hope yet unattained because he himself had been imprisoned, perhaps close to death. The commandments, both given soon after entering the wilderness and again before the people entered the Promised Land, reminded the people of what was most important: remembering that God was with them, the same God who liberated them, and that there was no other God who would do this. There was no other God who was their God, who knew them and loved them, and this God also taught them how to live as a people with one another. The heart of who we are is our love for God, and our love for one another—not what anyone else, or the whole world, thinks about us.
Call to Worship
God is calling you by name; what is your response?
I am God’s beloved child, and I will follow.
God is showing us the way; what will you choose?
I choose the path of God’s commandments and teachings.
God’s reign is being prepared for you; what will you do?
I will live into God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.
In this time of worship, what is your answer to God?
In my breath, in my song, in my silent prayer,
My whole being responds to God’s call through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty Creator of All, we confess that You have shown us through our ancestors, through our Scriptures, throughout all history and tradition that You are with us and have prepared a way for us, but we have rejected You and Your ways. We seek the ways of the world we have made: we seek notoriety, wealth, power, and security. These false idols have led us away from serving our neighbors in need, taking notice of the most vulnerable, and instead oppressing those who are different and choosing violence over love. Call us away from the false idols of the world we have made and lead us into Your way of justice, mercy, and love. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Psalm 80:7 reads, “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we might be saved.” May we seek to repair and restore as God restores us. As we pursue justice, may we live into God’s ways of justice. As we pursue peace, may God’s peace be made known to us. As we love one another, let us be assured of God’s unending, unmeasurable love for us. You are forgiven, loved, and restored. Go and share the Good News. Amen.
God of Bounty, God of Harvest, in the southern hemisphere the first fruits of spring are about to come forth, and in the north, we give thanks for the autumn yield. We thank You for sunlight and rain, the good earth and the wind that brings down the leaves and cones and seeds for the future. You have provided for all living things. Help us, O God, to remember this sacred charge to leave enough for the future, to take only what we need, to make sure others have enough for this generation and for the ones to come after. Guide us away from harmful practices to become better stewards of the earth. Raise our voices against corporations and leaders whose greed continues to damage and destroy. Turn us all from evil toward Your good earth, and teach us how to live into Your intention, from the first chapter of Genesis, from the first breath of air: to care for the earth and all of creation the way You care for us. Great Creator, we pray in Your name for all things and give thanks in all seasons. Amen.