Worship Resources for July 16, 2023—Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 25:19-34 and Psalm 119:105-112; Isaiah 55:10-13 and Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Narrative Lectionary: 2 Peter 3:1-10, 17-18 (Matthew 24:42-44)

In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, we have followed the ancestors of the faith, now to the third generation. Rebekah and Isaac struggled to conceive—a familiar story in scripture—but after prayer, Rebekah became pregnant with twins. Even in her pregnancy, Rebekah senses that the two boys will be at odds with each other. Esau was born first, all hairy and red, and Jacob was born second, gripping Esau’s heel—another image that foreshadows the struggle of the younger brother against the elder. When they had grown, Jacob managed to convince Esau to give up his birthright for a bowl of soup because he was so hungry. This foreshadows Esau being tricked out of Isaac’s blessing by Jacob.

Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm with each stanza corresponding to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This stanza speaks of the psalmist’s faithfulness to God. The author turns to God’s words in scripture and tradition even while suffering. They offer up praise to God and remain steadfast to God’s ways. Even though their enemies are trying to trap them, they stay true to God, for God’s ways are the joy of their heart.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah 55:10-13. In this closing section of Second Isaiah, the prophet shares a blessing of how God brings new life through rain and snow. God’s word will plant like seeds and grow into bread that nourishes. All of creation—the mountains, hills, and trees—will praise God before the people who are returning home from exile. Instead of weeds and thorns, lofty trees will grow—a sign forever of God’s faithfulness.

Psalm 65 is a song of praise. Verses 1-8 praise God for answered prayer and forgiveness. God, through awesome deeds, has brought salvation to the people, and all of creation and all nations are in awe of God. In verses 9-13, God is the one who provides for the earth, making sure there is enough water, blessing the earth with its bounty. All the pastures, meadows and valleys overflow and praise God through their being.

The Epistle readings continue the series in Romans with 8:1-11 (verses 6-11 were part of the lectionary reading on March 26th, the fifth Sunday of Lent). Paul writes of life in the spirit, and how sin has no hold on those who live by the spirit. Because Jesus came as one of us and died as one of us, the power of sin died with him. We now live in the spirit and belong to God because the spirit dwells in us. Jesus was raised from the dead, meaning that the law of sin has no hold, because death has no hold on those who believe.

Jesus begins to teach in parables in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. In 1-9, Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower to crowds that had gathered at the shore, so many that he went into the boat to teach them. In the familiar parable, a sower scattered seeds, and the seeds fell on different kinds of soil. The ones that fell on good soil brought forth multitudes of grain. Skipping over where Jesus spoke to the disciples about why he taught in parables, verses 18-23 explain the parable and that the different kinds of soil represent the ways one receives the word of the reign of God. Jesus explains very few parables, and some scholars believe this explanation was added later. A question we might ask today is what does it take to be rooted in good soil? Could this parable also speak to creation care?

The Narrative Lectionary concludes its series in 2 Peter with 3:1-10, 17-18. Most scholars believe 2 Peter to be the latest of all letters in the New Testament, as late as the mid-second century C.E. The author, purporting to be Peter, writes of how there will be skeptics in the last days. By this time, the generation that witnessed Christ is long gone and the first generation of believers have also passed. Some believers have fallen away. The writer states that God’s time is not our time, and that the day of the Lord is still to come. God’s desire, however, is not for death and destruction, but for repentance and salvation. The closing of this letter is a warning, as well as encouragement, to continue to grow in Christ.

The supplementary verses of Matthew 24:42-44 contain Jesus’s instruction to the disciples to keep awake, for they do not know when the day of the Lord is returning. Jesus used the image of a thief in the night, and image was also used by the author of 2 Peter, as a warning to be ready because Christ will return at an unexpected time.

What sort of foundation are we growing upon? How do we make sure what we are rooted in feeds and nourishes us? The Wisdom literature of the Bible, including the Psalms, reminds us to consistently turn to scripture and God’s teachings. Paul calls us to turn from the ways of this world that lead to dead ends and instead live by the Spirit and let nothing of this world have a hold on us. Jesus’s parable might remind us that good soil is produced with nurture and care, but also rest during a fallow time. The words of Isaiah and Jesus may remind us that being in creation is also a source of our nourishment, for God made all living things, and all living things praise God. The Narrative Lectionary reminds us that waiting for God is not passive but active. How do we make sure we are planted in a good place? We make sure to get our spiritual nourishment, every day, and keep active in the world around us, where the Spirit is also at work.

Call to Worship (Psalm 119: 171-175)
My lips will pour forth praise,
Because You teach me your statutes.
My tongue will sing of Your promise,
For all Your commandments are right.
Let Your hand be ready to help me,
For I have chosen Your ways.
I long for your salvation, O Lord,
And Your law is my delight.
Let me live that I may praise You,
And let Your ordinances help me.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we have neglected to care for the earth You formed, for the life You have grown, for the creatures we share this planet. We have taken advantage of Your commandment to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion, to the point that we have misused, abused, and used up the resources You entrusted us with. Instead of being good stewards of Your gifts, we have exploited the earth for selfish gain. Call us into accountability, O God, for the water that is poisoned and the people who have become sick. Hold us responsible, O God, for the forests we have destroyed and the carbon we have produced. Demand from us, O God, the work of restoration and repair in creation care. May we do these things while we seek Your forgiveness and the forgiveness of creation around us for our part we have played. May we seek to repair and restore first and foremost among our most vulnerable siblings who suffer, as coastlines rise, as leaded water pollutes, as erosion erases entire communities—may we work for environmental justice and restoration for those in need, and for all. In the name of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit we pray all things. Amen.

“For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). May we know the blessing of God’s good earth under our feet. May we hear the praise of the trees that rise above us. May we sing the song of the rivers and oceans. May we remember that we are made in the image of our Creator to love and care for this earth and all of creation. May we seek forgiveness through the work of restoration and justice. May we share this work together. Amen.

God of our Ancestors, we are reminded that almost from birth we are a people who struggle. We struggle to be in right relationship with one another, with You, and with creation. We want what others have. We seek to get our own way. We strive for possessions and power, even at times treating other people as pawns in a power play. Forgive us, O God, for forgetting who we are in You. Remind us that first and foremost, You created us along with all of creation as a joy and treasure. You crafted us in Your image, to be good stewards of the earth. You gave us everything we need on one planet, and shared everything about You through the commandments and prophets and sages of old, and in the love we have known through Jesus Christ. May we remember that we do have it all; we have enough. Call us to live in ways that bless others and love our neighbors as ourselves. In Your name we pray. Amen.

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