Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a and Psalm 42-43; Isaiah 65:1-9 and Psalm 22:19-18; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:3-11 and Matthew 22:34-40
For the season after Pentecost, beginning on the second Sunday there are two choices for the Hebrew Scripture readings, each paired with a Psalm reading. The first selection for this season will follow the prophets from the time of the kings after David and be semi-continuous, while the second selection will move about the Hebrew scriptures, paired with the rest of the lectionary scriptures as part of a daily theme.
Prophetic activity in the Hebrew Scriptures tends to rise when kings are making poor political alliances, turning from God’s ways, and ignoring the poor. In 1 Kings 19, King Ahab was doing all three—he had followed the ways of his wife Jezebel to worship Baal, and worship of Baal required human sacrifice. The prophet Elijah had stood against the prophets of Baal, and in a showdown with 450 of Baal’s prophets, Elijah had them killed. Jezebel promised death for Elijah, and he fled. In his exhaustion, he fell asleep under a bush, longing to die, but an angel woke Elijah up and commanded him to eat and drink. Elijah ate and drank, slept, was woken again by the angel, and after a second meal was nourished enough to continue his journey. When he came to Horeb, God asked him why he had come. Elijah told God of all that happened, and that he was the only one left faithful to God. Now, just before the incident with the prophets of Baal, Obadiah, a servant of Ahab who was faithful to God, had hid one hundred other prophets of God, fifty to a cave (18:7-15). Elijah was not really alone, but in his exhaustion, he felt alone. He was burned out. And after God passed by Elijah—not in the forces of nature of power and destruction associated with other gods of the day, but in the sound of sheer silence. God listened to Elijah and told him to return to the wilderness of Damascus. In the verses immediately following, God shared the succession plan to Elijah. God still had work for Elijah to do, but now Elijah knew he could go on.
Psalms 42 and 43 are paired together as they have a common refrain in verses 42:5, 11, and 43:5. The psalmist asks in this refrain why their own soul is distressed, but finds encouragement in their hope in God. Psalm 42 begins with the metaphor of a deer longing for flowing streams of water—this is how we long for God. The psalmist longs to experience God while in the midst of sorrow and despair. However, the psalmist knows their hope is in God, and God will save them, even as their enemies taunt them as if God isn’t near. In psalm 43, the demands justice from God, for they have faced oppression and surely God will deliver them. The psalmist gives thanks to God before the altar in worship, for they put their hope in God.
The second selection in the Hebrew scriptures is from what scholars call Third Isaiah, the writings in the tradition of the prophet Isaiah but from after the exile, when the people had returned and began to resume their old ways. In 65:1-9, God is angry with the people who have gone back to worshiping idols and other gods. In the Hebrew scriptures, God often describes anger as a fire burning in one’s nose, the smoke coming out from God’s nostrils. Even though God had delivered them, was ready to welcome them back, the people resumed their abominable practices. Yet God will not destroy them; the people are the remnant that was saved. However, God will not forget, and the people will continue to struggle because they refuse to turn to God’s ways.
Psalm 22:19-28 is a cry from the psalmist for God to not turn away, but to hear their cries of suffering. The psalmist also calls upon the congregation to turn back to God, for God has delivered them before. God has previously answered the psalmist and God will do so again if the people turn back to God. God is the one who has dominion over all people, and the psalmist is assured that all nations will turn to God.
The Epistle reading picks up in Galatians midway at 3:23-29 and will follow Galatians for the next three weeks. This portion of Paul’s letter is the crux of his argument, that there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female—there is no division of religion, race, class, gender, or any other sort in the reign of God, because they are one people in Christ Jesus. The church in Galatia, among others, were keeping Gentile believers in Jesus in a second-class status. Peter, though he had eaten with Greeks and included them before, now in the presence of other Jewish followers of Jesus, had gone back to the old rules about clean and unclean. Paul called him out earlier in the letter, and explains here that all belong to Christ, all inherit the reign of God, for all believers in Christ are God’s children.
The Gospel lessons return to Luke for this season after Pentecost. In 8:26-39, Jesus and the disciples enter Gerasene. This area was populated by mostly Gentiles, and Jesus encounters a man known to locals as someone possessed, living naked among the tombs. Though the people tried to chain him up, he broke the chains and was driven wild by his demons. Jesus cast out the demons, called Legion, who begged Jesus to cast them into the herd of pigs. The herd rushed into the water and drowned, but the man put on clothes and began to speak in his right mind. However, the locals were frightened by what Jesus had done, and begged him to leave. Perhaps, even though the locals had been afraid, they knew how to handle a man with demons—they didn’t know what to do with a man who had the power of God. The man who had previously been possessed wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him to go tell others. The man began to proclaim what Jesus had done for him throughout the city.
The Narrative Lectionary continues its four-part series with part two on the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:3-11. This section covers the first four commandments: to have no other gods before God, to not make idols, to not make wrongful use of God’s name, and to keep the sabbath day as a holy day. These first four are about worship of God, keeping God first and foremost, and remembering that God had brought them out of oppression. God was not like other gods, and misusing God’s name includes not blaming God for things God did not do. This section concludes with remembering that God had given a day of rest and to take God’s gifts seriously.
The second selection for this series is the same throughout this series: Matthew 22:34-40. In Matthew’s account, Jesus was teaching in the temple and was challenged by different groups: first the Sadducees, and then the Pharisees. This was common practice for rabbis to debate each other. The Pharisees had one of their lawyers ask Jesus which commandment was the greatest, and Jesus replied with part of the Shema, the call to prayer: to love God with one’s whole being. Jesus also included “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” from Leviticus 19:18, which other rabbis in the first century also lifted up. Jesus then stated that on these two commandments hang the law and the prophets—in other words, the entire meaning of the Bible collected at that time. The first section of the Ten Commandments reading today from Exodus can be summed up under the Shema: to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Burnout is a buzzword we’ve heard much about during this Covid time, but we were nearing burnout long before. Burnout isn’t just about overworking, but it is the emotional and mental exhaustion from dealing with so much violence, heartbreak, and despair in this world, that manifests itself in physical and spiritual exhaustion as well. The psalms often speak to that kind of burnout, of feeling downcast and wondering where our help will come from. The prophet Elijah was burned out. He was ready to die and be done, but God had him rest and eat, come to the mountain, and sit in silence. God then had a succession plan for him—even though it wouldn’t be enacted for some time—God was showing Elijah that it wouldn’t continue on forever.
Sometimes we are burned out to the point we can’t try something new. We’d rather stick with the old patterns even though they lead to dead ends because we are afraid that something new will fail us or be more trouble. The people in Gerasene had lived with the man possessed by demons, and even though they said they wanted to help him, when he finally was helped, they didn’t know what to do with the man who had the power of God. That was even more frightening to them, because it meant they would have to change their ways. Sometimes in the church it is more frightening to listen to where God may be calling us to be something new than to stick with the old ways, even though they haven’t worked as well, because we know them. But we will just continue the pattern of burnout unless we are willing to embrace the transformation God intends for us. Even Peter, having experienced the resurrected Jesus, still went back to his old ways around others because of the social loss he would experience if he embraced the Greek believers in the same way he embraced his fellow Jewish believers. Paul called him out for this, and knew that the church had to be something new if it was truly to be the church of Jesus.
Call to Worship
When we are down,
God lifts us up.
When we are proud,
God grants us humility.
When we are lost,
God searches until we are found.
When we gather to worship,
We know we are not alone,
For God is always present with us.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, we confess that we are exhausted. We are so tired of violence. So tired of being afraid. The various traumas we have experienced continued to cloud our minds, our hearts, our souls, that we are downtrodden and our soul disquieted. We long for You, O God, and we long for healing and rest and renewal. Remind us that our rest and our hope is in You, and not in the systems and structures of this world. Call us into Your beloved community, where in sharing and working with others, we find our own renewal and rest. Call us into Your way, Your truth, and Your life, through our savior Jesus Christ, in whom we pray all things. Amen.
God leads us to the still waters and cool pastures. God restores our soul. God prepares a table before us in the presence of evil in this world, and our cup overflows. God’s mercy and goodness are with us all our lives, and we dwell with God forever. Know that God loves you. In God’s love, may you find restoration and renewal. May you be refreshed for your work here on earth to share God’s love with one another. May you know God’s forgiveness and healing. Go and share the good news of the rest we find in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Holy Spirit, restore our souls. There is so much pain and sorrow in our world, in our lives, that we feel it. Our health is not as it should be. Our minds are troubled, our spirits low. Breathe into us Your life. Remind us to go outside when possible to know the fresh air of Your spirit. Drive us to connect with nature again, for in creation You are making all things new. Your covenant is alive in the trees and the deep roots, in the still pools and in the rushing waters. Holy Spirit, reconnect us to creation, so we may remember our Creator. Reconnect us to the soul of the earth, the very dirt in which God breathed us into life. Renew our hearts to live into the ways of Jesus, so that we might love one another as ourselves and become living hope for one another. Holy Spirit, renew us. Amen.
For Father’s Day, a suggestion to sing “This Is My Father’s World” to remind us of our connection to nature and to God as creator, with the image of a caring father.