Worship Resources for August 20, 2023—Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 45:1-15 and Psalm 133; Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 and Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Creeds, Genesis 1:1-5 and Matthew 6:30-34 or Series on Sabbath, Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and Matthew 11:28-30

In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures in this season after Pentecost, we have followed the stories of our ancestors. For the first half of the season, we followed four generations of one family. In this final selection, the family has come to Egypt, where Joseph, once sold into slavery by his brothers, has now become a leader under Pharaoh. Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and tells them not to be angry with themselves or distressed because God has used this opportunity to help save Joseph’s family and preserve a remnant—a foreshadowing of the remnant of Israel in Judah that returned from exile hundreds of years later. Even though his brothers had once sought to do him harm, Joseph interprets his current position in Egypt as a result of what God has done. Joseph plans with his brothers to provide for the whole family in Egypt, where they will remain.

Psalm 133 is a brief blessing, perhaps for a family at a wedding, as family come together and lives in unity. It is an anointing like oil or dew—a rich blessing that comes from God.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah 56:1, 6-8. In the return from exile, Third Isaiah speaks of those from outside Israel who will join together with the outcasts of God’s people. Unlike other leaders after the exile, Isaiah speaks of God’s extravagant welcome to all people, even those who are not Israelites but are seeking God. The temple will be called a house of prayer for all people who seek God with their heart, and their offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable.

Psalm 67 is a call to worship for all people of the earth, all nations, to praise God. The psalm begins with a prayer of invocation, then moves into the call for nations to rejoice and sing their praise, for God is the one who reigns with equity and guidance. The psalmist reminds the people of what God has provided from the earth, and concludes with a call for God’s continual blessing, and for all people to have reverence for God.

The Epistle reading continues the series in Romans with 11:1-2a, 29-32. This selection chooses the beginning and ending of the chapter to summarize Paul’s argument that God has not rejected Israel. Paul himself is Jewish, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God’s call to Abraham and Sarah, to Jacob and all his descendants, lasts forever. The receivers of this letter, whether Jewish or Gentile, have received God’s mercy, for all people were disobedient to God, but God was merciful, and God’s grace extends to everyone.

The Gospel lesson is Matthew 15, with the option of verses 10-20 before going on to 21-28. In 10-20, Jesus responded to the question of some Pharisees and scribes as to why his disciples didn’t follow the tradition of the elders in ritual hand washing. Jesus explained that what defiles a person are evil intentions such as gossip, slander, false witness, and other evil that comes from within. Even though some of the leaders took offense to what Jesus said, Jesus told the disciples that what was not planted by God will be uprooted. What defiles a person is not what God has created in the world, but evil intentions within people that are not from God.
In verses 21-28, a Canaanite woman began shouting to Jesus for help for her daughter. Jesus’s first response was to ignore her. Then his disciples wanted him to send her away, so Jesus’s second response was to turn to her, and tell her he was sent only for the lost sheep of Israel. However, the woman persisted and asked for help a second time. Jesus’s third response was then to insult her, telling her it wasn’t fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. Her third reply was to tell Jesus that even the dogs eat crumbs from the table. Jesus finally recognized her faith and said her request would be answered as she wished, and her daughter was healed.

The Narrative Lectionary follows two threads, one on Creeds, and the other on Sabbath, for the next three weeks.

The selection on the Creeds begins with Genesis 1:1-5, the first day of Creation, and the separating out of light from the darkness, and the light being called good, and the making of day and night. Matthew 6:30-34 contains Jesus’ statements on not worrying about daily needs, but instead striving for the reign of God and knowing that those things will come when we care about the needs of all. Jesus concludes that section with not worrying about tomorrow, for today’s troubles are enough for today. Both selections speak to God being the one who has made the day, who has created what is good. One might say God is in control of the day, but a better way is to say, “this is the day that our God has made.”

The selection on Sabbath begins with Deuteronomy 5:12-15. God made the sabbath for all people, and the seventh day is to be a day of rest. The people are to remember that they were once enslaved in Egypt, and God has brought them out of their oppression and into rest. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus speaks through the Wisdom tradition, calling upon those who are carrying heavy burdens to come to him, for in Christ we shall have rest. Learn from the yoke Christ carries and find rest for your souls. Professor and pastor Rev. Dr. Kirk Byron Jones writes in his book Addicted to Hurry: Spiritual Strategies for Slowing Down, “Contrary to popular behavior, God does not need our exhaustion. There is nothing holy about running ourselves into the ground. There is nothing spiritual about being all things to all people as soon as possible.” Perhaps this is the lesson we most need to learn, that God desires rest, not busyness; refresh, not burnout.

God plays the long game. God’s desire, from Genesis to Revelation, is restoration and reconciliation. Joseph’s life is a metaphor for Israel, enslaved in Egypt, and later taken into exile. Joseph was finally exalted and lifted into a position where he was able to help save the known world in the midst of famine. The prophet Isaiah shows us that through Israel’s return from exile God was made known to all nations. Paul demonstrates that God has not rejected Israel but is reconciling all people to God. While the systems and structures of the world oppress and marginalize, God is constantly at work to break through those systems and remind us that God’s love is for all. God’s love for Israel was never meant to be for one people, but to be shown through one people to the world. The Canaanite woman who came to Jesus knew that Jesus had come for all people and challenged him and his disciples. But this work is not easy. The work for justice is long, and the walls of oppression are high. But God is playing the long game. It’s not all up to us. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, and we lift up those coming after us. Little by little, we work to break down the walls of systemic evil, knowing that God is in it for the long haul.

Call to Worship
Gather together, all people, to worship our God!
Come into God’s presence with thanksgiving.
Rise up, all people, to do the work of justice,
Open our hearts to listen to God’s call together.
Experience the teaching of our ancestors through our traditions and scriptures,
Apply them to your life and teach them to the next generation.
Take notice of where Jesus is nudging you,
And be filled with the Spirit in this time of worship.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of our Ancestors, we are grateful for Your faithfulness and regret when we have gone astray and not remembered the lessons of the past. We confess that we have repeated similar mistakes of exclusion, oppression, and marginalization that previous generations did. We believe we have come so far, ignorant of how we participate in systems and structures of oppression, even passively. Forgive us and call us into accountability. Remind us of the lessons of our ancestors, both their mistakes as well as their faithfulness, so we might learn, grow, and be examples for those who come after us. In Your name we pray. Amen.

God’s steadfast love endures forever. There is nothing that can separate us from God’s love. It cannot be diminished, it can only grow. So love freely! Forgive lavishly. Care fervently for others. Participate in God’s reign on earth, and see how the seeds of the kingdom grow, like a mustard seed planted in a field, when we live into God’s ways. Know that you are forgiven, loved, and restored. Amen.

God of Sabbath, help us to slow down from the busy world around us and find our rest in You. Guide us to set boundaries on our time and attention, so we may focus on You, the close ones we love, and ourselves. May we see Your gift of Sabbath as a habit to be cultivated, and the more we practice, the more it will grow. Help us to unplug and unwind. Remind us that even though there is always kin-dom work to do, justice to participate in, kindness to share, that You are in it for the long haul, and so we must be as well. Help us to not become burned out, but to burn our brightest after periods of rest. We thank You for the commandment of Sabbath—help us to hold on to it dearly. Amen.

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