Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 32:22-31 and Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Isaiah 55:1-5 and Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
Narrative Lectionary: Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry, Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, 3:1-17 (Luke 13:1-3)
In our first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, in this season after Pentecost we have been following the stories of our ancestors of the faith, from a family to a great nation. In Genesis 32:22-31, Jacob becomes known as Israel when he wrestles with a stranger overnight. Jacob, his wives and their handmaidens, his children and all the household have left Laban, but on their way, he learns that his brother Esau is waiting to meet him. The story of Jacob is told in layers: (A) Jacob had tricked and deceived Esau out of his birthright and blessing and ran away to Laban. (B) On his way to Laban, he had a vision of angels ascending and descending on a ladder. (A) Laban had tricked and deceived Jacob into marrying Leah before Rachel. (C) Laban was reckoned with Jacob upon his eventual departure and they made an agreement with each other. (B) While on his way to Esau, Jacob encountered a stranger at night with whom he wrestled until daybreak, and Jacob overpowered this messenger from God, though the messenger had knocked Jacob’s hip out of joint. The angel blesses Jacob and tells him that his name will be Israel. (C) Following this passage, Jacob and Esau will meet and Esau will forgive Jacob. Though this passage focuses solely on the encounter with the angel and the name given to Jacob, it’s important to see the story layers of deception, encounters with God, and reckoning/forgiveness. It is the encounters with God that transform and change our lives, but also the lives of others.
Psalm 17:1-7, 15 is a prayer for help. The psalmist calls upon God to see that the psalmist has remained true to God with integrity and honesty. The psalmist has avoided violent ways and leaned on God’s teachings. They know God will answer their prayer and provide safety from their enemies. The psalmist concludes that they will be justified before God and will behold the face of God in fulfillment.
The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah 55:1-5. In this section from Second Isaiah, God speaks through the prophet, calling upon the people to look to what will spiritually satisfy, not just material goods that are temporary. Anyone who is thirsty or hungry for God is welcome. God will make an everlasting covenant with the people. Other nations will witness how God is at work in Israel and be drawn to God through them.
Psalm 145 is an acrostic poem, with every two lines beginning with the subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In vs. 8-9, the psalmist lifts up God’s compassionate and merciful nature, how God is patient and abounding in steadfast love. In vs. 14-21, the psalmist sings of how God provides for all who are in need, how God supports the humble and meek, and cares for those who love God. God is near to those who call on God sincerely. The psalmist concludes by declaring they will praise God and calls upon all living creatures to praise God’s name forever.
The Epistle reading continues its series in Romans with 9:1-5. In this part of the letter to the church in Rome, Paul expresses his own sadness as a Jewish follower of Jesus Christ that other Jews do not believe in him. Paul wishes that if he is the stumbling block for other Jews to believe in Jesus, it might be better if he was cut off from Christ. As a people raised with the covenants, the temple worship and their culture, Paul believes that Jesus is the fulfillment of all these, though other Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah.
The Gospel lesson moves away from the parables to one of the great miracles of the Gospels. In Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus came ashore to great crowds of people whom he had compassion for, because they followed him from the towns. When evening came, the disciples told Jesus he should tell the people to go back to the villages and buy food for themselves, but Jesus told the disciples the people didn’t have to go away—they could give the people something to eat. The disciples only had five loaves and two fish, but Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down, and Jesus blessed the fish and bread. Everyone had enough to eat, along with twelve baskets full of leftovers (a doggy bag for each disciple!) Five thousand men, plus women and children—all ate and were filled.
The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry, turning to the book of Ecclesiastes, a book of sayings, poems and prose about trying to find meaning in life. In 1:1-11, the author, known as the Teacher, describes everything as vanity, chasing after something that isn’t really there, like mist or vapor. The Common English Bible translates it as “pointless.” The author rants about how people work hard and get nothing. People live and die but the earth is still here. Streams only flow one way, to the sea. Everything that has happened will happen again, there is nothing new under the sun. In other words, the same struggles we have now are the struggles of our ancestors, and we still have not learned our lessons. In 3:1-8, the famous poem that describes a time and season for everything reminds us that life keeps going and things keep changing and cannot stay good or bad forever. In 9-11, the author muses why people work hard for this life when we know eternity in our hearts? Because we cannot comprehend eternity, let alone our own lifetimes. In 12-17, the writer knows that the best thing human beings can do is to find joy in their work and life now, because nothing will last forever. Injustice and evil are part of this world and life, but God will judge in the end.
In the supplementary verses of Luke 13:1-3, some people tell Jesus about how Pilate had killed some Galileans while they were making their sacrifices, and Pilate had mixed in their blood with the sacrifice. Jesus warns against the kind of thinking that would believe the Galileans deserved what happened to them. Jesus warns against thinking that these Galileans must have done something wrong, sinned worse than others. Instead, Jesus warns that unless we all repent, we all will die. Being perceived as good does not save us from death. What saves us from death is repentance, turning back to God, and believing in Christ, that we have eternal life.
Our lives must demonstrate our faith. Jesus had compassion for the crowds and cared for their needs. He didn’t feed them to convert them—he fed them because they were hungry. The disciples would have sent the crowds away to fend for themselves, but Jesus shows the disciples must care about the needs of others. Our lives are fleeting, as the author of Ecclesiastes writes. We are still facing the same problems of poverty, injustice, war, famine, melancholy and struggle in daily life. Nonetheless, when we look at our ancestors of the faith, we see that their encounters with God, their relationship with God, changed them, and through them, the lives of those they met. Jacob was changed by God, and eventually Laban and Esau were also changed. When we turn to God, when we seek God through prayer, study of scripture, remembering our ancestors, praise and worship, serving God—we know our lives are changed. When we seek to meet the needs of others, we find that both our lives and their lives are transformed. This is the work of God. Judging others, looking to our own desires first—we cut ourselves off from compassion and mercy. When we love one another, are empathetic and seek to meet the needs of others, we find our own needs are met, for God’s love must be shared in order to grow.
Call to Worship
Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!
All who are hungry, come and eat!
Our worth is not in our possessions,
It is in the love from God that we share with one another.
Life is too short to keep tally of wrongs and rights,
Instead, may we outdo one another in our love of neighbor.
Everyone who is in need of compassion, of forgiveness, come!
Everyone who desires God’s love will find it!
Join together on this journey of faith,
For you are not alone.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God Who Provides, loosen our hold on possessions and power of this world. Loosen our grip on the myth of scarcity. Remind us that when we love one another, there is more than enough love to go around. When we care for one another’s needs, our own needs will be met. Help us to look to the most vulnerable among us, as the early disciples did long ago when they cared for widows and orphans and the poor among them. May our sharing together increase our joy and fellowship. May we remember it is You who gave us this beautiful earth. You who give us the breath of life. You who lived as one of us, died as one of us, and lives again. You are amazing and awe-inspiring. Give us the strength to name our real needs and ask for help when we need it, so that we may also be receivers as well as givers of Your love and care. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray and live by his example. Amen.
Draw closer to God, and know God is drawing close to you. Love one another, and feel your heart increase with the love God has for you. Meet the needs of others, and open your minds to all that you have from God. Forgive those who have wronged you in the ways you also wrong others, and you will be forgiven, and cease to sin in that way. Participate in God’s reign now, and you will find the reign of God has drawn very near to you. Go and live into God’s good news to the world, beginning in your daily life. Amen.
God of Great Compassion, Your love for us is overwhelming. When we stand at the shore and look out at as far as we can see, Your love is greater still. When we stand and gaze up at the night sky, at the stars of the Milky Way, even through a telescope we cannot know all that You have made. You are too wondrous, too amazing for us to comprehend. Yet we have known You through the stories passed down to us, the words of prophets and singers and sages, our ancestors of the faith, the church elders who have taught us. We know You in the whisper of wind, the sap rising in the trees, the wings of butterflies and eagles. We know You in the smell of a newborn baby’s head, their cries and laughter. We know You in the last breaths of our loved ones returning to You, in the earth and air and water we have come from. You are amazing, compassionate, merciful, and so beyond what we can ever know, and yet we have a glimpse of You in our lives. We are grateful for the simple threads we can follow, the hint of trails that lead to deeper understanding, every clue You have left for us imprinted in the universe and in our heart. We thank You and praise You, Great and Merciful God, full of compassion, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Amen, and Amen.