Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38
Narrative Lectionary: Living Water, John 7:37-52 (Psalm 147:1-11)
The Hebrew Scripture selection turns to the story of Joseph reuniting with his brothers in Genesis 45:3-11, 15. Though Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery and abandoned him, Joseph did not see what happened to him as a grudge in need of payback. Instead, he saw where God had been with him, and how God continued to help his family despite what his brothers had done. God was with Joseph and helped him become important enough to Pharaoh that Joseph was able to provide for his family and the whole land during the famine. Joseph told his brothers to bring their father to him, so that he might care for them all in Egypt during the time of famine.
Psalm 37 is a wisdom psalm, reminding the reader/listener that following in God’s ways is the path to righteousness. While the wicked prosper temporarily because they follow the ways of the world, they will come to their end, withering like herbs, and fading like grass. Instead, the psalmist instructs the reader/listener to trust in God’s ways. God will act for justice for those who are righteous—they will know God’s vindication. The psalmist cautions the reader/listener to step back from anger and holding grudges, for those who stay true to God will inherit what is theirs. God is the refuge and salvation of the righteous, and God will deliver them from evil.
The Epistle readings following 1 Corinthians come to an end this season after Epiphany with 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50. Paul, addressing the largest concern he had for the church in Corinth, instructs on the resurrection of the dead, for some believed there was no resurrection. Asking how the dead will be raised is a foolish question, according to Paul, for a seed grows only after what gives the seed has died. What is planted is perishable, but what grows is imperishable. If there is a physical body, Paul argues, there is also a spiritual body. What dies is physical, but what rises is spiritual. We are made of dust and spirit, and both are bodies. Paul argues that flesh and blood will not inherit the reign of God, only what is imperishable will. This is an argument still playing out in theological studies today, for it is not a binary either-or argument, but a both-and. Jesus, fully human, died and rose, with his body and his scars. Verse 51, which is not included in this section, shows us that this is a mystery.
Jesus’ instructions continue in Luke 6:27-38, picking up from the teachings of last week’s lesson to the crowd and the disciples. Jesus instructs the disciples on how they ought to live in God’s ways of love, which include loving one’s enemies. Walter Wink has famously argued that Jesus is teaching nonviolent resistance—not a passive accepting of abuse, but an active resistance that would embarrass and force the one committing the wrong to recognize the humanity of the victim. Loving those who love us is the easy part, Jesus argues, but loving those who do not love us is much more difficult, because it is how God loves all people, even those who do not love God. Instead, seek the humanity of others. It goes beyond treating others how you want to be treated, but rather, treating others the way God treats us all.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Jesus’ teaching in John 7:37-52. Jesus has once again gone to Jerusalem (in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus only goes to Jerusalem once, the last week of his life). On the last day of a Jewish festival, Jesus stood up among the crowds and shouted to them that all who were thirsty should come to him, for living water would flow from him. The Holy Spirit would come to those who believed in Jesus. The crowds were divided on who he was. Some thought he was the Messiah, others a prophet, and still others thought he couldn’t be because of where he came from. Some wanted to arrest Jesus, and some religious leaders were upset when the guards refused to arrest him because they’d never heard anyone speak like him. Nicodemus stood up for Jesus among the religious leaders, who thought they were all of the same mind about Jesus. None of them could believe a prophet could come from Galilee, from the countryside.
Psalm 147:1-11 is a song of praise to God, praising God for rebuilding Jerusalem and delivering the exiles. God is amazing, knowing all the stars created, and this same God helps the poor and overturns the wicked. God is the God of all creation, caring for even baby ravens when they are hungry, causing green grass to grow on the mountains and rain to fall. God isn’t interested in the strength of armies and warriors, but in people who honor and love God.
Living into God’s ways isn’t easy. The scriptures teach us of how tempting the ways of the world are. When someone takes from us, take back. When someone strikes us, strike back. We go around the world with chips on our shoulders. But the ways of Wisdom, the way of Jesus, is to see one another the way God sees us—that all of us are flawed, all of us experience brokenness, and all of us need mending and healing. This isn’t an excuse to let abusers off the hook. Those who have abused must be held accountable. Instead, this is an inner transformation for ourselves, that we don’t have to let the violence and harm that has happened to us define who we are. We can choose differently for our own hearts and lives. The powers of the world want us to conform, to respect those with worldly power and authority, but the faithful listen to God, and do the work of justice, healing, and restoration. For God is with us, always, and will deliver the faithful.
Call to Worship (Psalm 147:1-3, 7)
It is good to sing praise to our God.
God is gracious,
And a song of praise is fitting.
God gathers the outcasts,
God heals the brokenhearted.
Sing to God with thanksgiving,
Make melody to our God.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Justice and Mercy, we confess that we have misconstrued justice for punishment. We want others to feel deeply the way we have felt deeply. We want others to hurt the way we’ve been hurt. We’ve been pushed around and pushed down by the ways of the world, and we want to punch back. O God, help us to unclench our fist. Help us to loosen our jaw. Help us to lower our shoulders. Remind us to breathe. Breathe in Your Spirit, breathe out Your peace. Help us to remember that all of us have fallen short and yet You love us so much. Remind us that our woundedness is not who we are. Bind our broken hearts, mend our wounds. Call us to love one another. Remind us that setting boundaries to reduce harm is good, for ourselves and others. Teach us how to reach out in repentance, to do the work of justice and reparation, to restore the world for Your reign, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Psalm 37:4 teaches us to delight in God, and God will give us the desires of our heart. You are not your wounds. You are not your bruises. You are not your scars. You will be healed. You will find wholeness. You will find justice, and you will find peace, if you seek it and pursue it. Jesus calls us into a life of repentance and forgiveness for where we’ve gone wrong, and to forgive one another as God has forgiven us, whenever possible. Take courage, and know God is with you in this journey of forgiveness, restoration, and healing. Go and love one another with the love of God. Amen.
Honorable God, You are not interested in worldly wealth or success. You disdain the strength of warriors and armies and politicians. Instead, You look into our hearts and perceive our thoughts. You know who we truly are, and the veils we show the world. Help us to be our true selves, O God. Help us to know where we have gone astray and to repent and turn back to You. Help us to truly live for Your reign on earth as it is in heaven, and not to keep the status quo. Remind us that life is not about our own security and self-satisfaction, but the redemption of all, the love You have for us through Your Son Jesus Christ. For Jesus laid down his life for us, emptied himself, served his disciples, and taught us to become last of all and servant of all. You are not a God who requires gold and sacrifices, but rather the love of our neighbor, and You know the truth of who we really are. Help us to repent and turn back to You. Amen.