Revised Common Lectionary: Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9; Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Narrative Lectionary: Series on Sacraments—Lord’s Supper, 1 Samuel 21:1-9; Mark 14:12-25 or Series on Revelation, 13:1-18 (John 12:30-32)
The first selection in the Hebrew scriptures shifts midway through this season, from following the rise of the kings of Israel with Saul, David and Solomon, into Wisdom literature, in which Solomon is seen as an author and figure of Wisdom. In Song of Solomon 2:8-13, this love song marks upon the beauty of springtime, the newness of life, and that the time is ripe for new love. Often viewed as a metaphor of God’s love for humanity, Wisdom literature reminds us that love, even the love shared between people, comes from God, is blessed by God, and should be celebrated.
Psalm 45 is a song of blessing for a king’s wedding. The first two verses address the king, showering upon praise and compliments, and verses 6-9 speak of God’s anointing and blessing of the king. God’s reign is everlasting, and God blesses the king of Israel, for he practices justice and righteousness and despises evil. The psalmist continues to compliment the king for his appearance and majesty on his wedding day.
As part of Moses’ final words to the people while they prepare to enter the land promised them, in Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, Moses reminds the people to remember all that they were taught of the law, ordinances, and statutes of God. No other nation has a relationship with their god the way Israel has with God. The people are instructed to continue teaching their children and to future generations—to not forget what they have learned.
Psalm 15 is a short psalm, answering the question of who may enter the temple of God. The psalm lists out those who live in God’s ways, who do what is right, who do not take advantage of others but are honorable and trustworthy. All who live in righteousness may enter the temple because they will never falter.
The Epistle lesson begins a series in James. 1:17-27 speaks of pure religion—living into God’s ways and not the ways of the world. The writer instructs those receiving these words to be quick to listen but slow to speak. Part of Wisdom literature in the Christian scriptures, the author of James invites us to live into God’s ways, to shed anger and to turn instead to humility. We are called to live out the word, not just hear it, but to do it. To think we are religious and harm others with our words—that shows our religion is worthless, because it didn’t bring transformation. True religion cares for those who are marginalized and invites us into the life desires for us, where we listen before speaking, where we are humble before God and one another.
The Gospel lesson returns to Mark. In chapter 7, some of the religious leaders notice that some of Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating. This wasn’t for hygienic purposes, but a ritual washing to make sure nothing they touched became unclean before they ate it. Jesus saw this as hypocritical, that they were concerned about the ritual washing of hands rather than the things some religious leaders said and did that could cause harm to others. Jesus taught the crowds that it isn’t what goes in, what food that was touched that causes a person to become unclean, but rather how they live and what they say. Our actions and words reflect God’s word in our life, because what we say and do can cause harm to other people. Our rituals and traditions may help shape our lives, but the truth of God in our lives is lived out.
The Narrative Lectionary has two series choices for the remainder of the summer—a series on Sacraments, and a series on Revelation. I am using the same resources I did four years ago, from September 3rd, 2017, in the archives, for the series on Sacraments. Because the Narrative Lectionary has added a fifth week for this series this year, the resources for this week’s lesson on Revelation is new.
In 1 Samuel 21:1-9. David comes to the temple in secret, but the only bread for him and his men to eat is the Bread of Presence, reserved for the priests. David declares that he and his men have kept themselves holy (a way of saying they haven’t slept with women, which was a requirement to enter the temple) and the priest Ahimelech gives David the bread, and at the same time gives David the sword of Goliath to carry out the king’s mission.
Mark 14:12-25 contains Mark’s account of the Last Supper, during the Passover Meal when Jesus takes bread and breaks it, and the cup and pours it out, and says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus also uses this opportunity to declare that one of them, one of his own, will betray him. This must have disturbed the disciples, who thought they were coming to celebrate the Passover, not hear about Jesus’ body broken and blood shed, or his betrayal at the hands of one of them. They may have been shocked, horrified at what was happening, and perhaps some beginning to finally understand that the path to eternal life had to go through death.
Revelation 13:1-18 (which should begin with 12:18) speaks of the beast from the sea and the beast from the land in John of Patmos’ vision. The author draws from the book of Daniel in this vision to call out the empire—in Daniel’s day, the Greeks, and in John’s day, the Romans. In the Roman empire, Caesar was seen as a god on earth, and the people worshiped and lived in fear. The second beast is like the chaos monsters of myth and folklore in the ancient near East, also representing the empire. John equates these beasts with the rule of Satan on earth, the fear and oppression the people face. Those who worship Caesar and those who trust in the empire are really worshipers of evil and have given in to the power that is against what God stands for: love, justice, mercy, and righteousness.
In John 12:30-32, Jesus speaks of this world and the ruler of this world—the devil, the ways of evil—and the time had come for this world’s ruler to be thrown out and that Jesus, upon his resurrection and ascension, would draw the faithful of God to him.
As we begin this shift in the season after Pentecost, we delve into Wisdom literature in the Bible. Wisdom literature is rooted in the awe (sometimes translated as fear) of God—the knowledge that God is far beyond our understanding, whose very presence causes our hearts both to tremble and not be afraid. God has taught us through the commandments and ordinances our way of life, but it must become the way we live—not a set of rules, not a way to divide who is good or who is bad, but a way that our lives are rooted in. A way that seeks justice, practices compassion, listens more than speaks. A way that is true, where our words, actions, and values come together. The ways of the world tempt us to seek our own desires and power. Sometimes, even in our pursuit of Godliness we fall into a trap of exclusivism, a way of retaining power and privilege under the guise of religion. Wisdom teaches us that our lives must be lived out in inclusive love, especially for the marginalized and oppressed, and that we ourselves must not be tempted into the ways of empire—either externally, by worldly measures of success, or internally, by claiming exclusive rights to God’s love and ways. We must be radically inclusive and live humbly with our God.
Call to Worship
God is active in our world and in our lives,
We gather in awe of our God.
Christ calls us into the way of love and justice,
We gather to follow Jesus our Savior.
The Spirit moves us in compassion and kindness,
We gather as one people of God.
Come, join your hearts in worship,
And ponder the awesomeness of God.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Awesome God, we come before You confessing our sins. We confess that we have accepted the way of empire. We have accepted the silencing of marginal voices in our society as a given. We have not questioned the oppression of those who are different from us, and when we do question, we have not always sought their liberation. We have ignored the cries of those who are most in need. Almighty One, we know You hear their cries, and we hear Your voice calling us into accountability. You remind us of our responsibility to love our neighbor as ourselves. Help us to turn to You and away from empire, away from the ways of this world. Remind us that we live for Your heavenly reign, on earth as it is in heaven, and that what we do now matters far beyond us. Guide us into Your ways of love, justice, and mercy. Amen.
Those who turn from the world and turn back to God are forgiven. Those who strive to do better are forgiven. Those who seek to repair and heal in our broken world are forgiven. All of us, when we profess our faith in Christ, know the forgiveness of our God, because we feel the pull to engage in restoring what has been broken. Live into forgiveness with accountability. Love one another as Christ has loved you and go forth sharing the good news of our God in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Loving God, teach us to love not as the world loves. The world views love as a transaction, a give and take. Teach us to love in a way that heals. Teach us to love in a way that restores. Teach us to love in a way that repairs the brokenness of our world. Teach us to love in a way that does not seek repayment, but rather, teach us to love wholeheartedly, to see one another as truly made in Your image, as brothers, sisters, siblings of one another, connected to all of creation. In the name of Jesus, who laid down his life for us out of Your wondrous love, we pray. Amen.