Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 and Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 and Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
Narrative Lectionary: Series on Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:12-16 (Matthew 22:34-40)
Both selections for the Hebrew Scripture reading in the Revised Common Lectionary follow last week’s first reading. Because of the close proximity, I will reverse the order to explore both passages first and then both psalm selections.
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 (the second reading) picks up right where the first reading last week left off, after the prophet Elijah’s epic burnout. Elijah was exhausted from Ahab and Jezebel’s oppression, and in this section, God shares the succession plan with Elijah: he is to go on and anoint a new king of Aram, a new king of Israel, and a new prophet to take his place. When Elijah left, he found Elisha plowing a field. Elijah threw his mantle over Elisha, a symbol that Elisha was now under the care of Elijah. Elisha longed to go tell his parents goodbye, and Elijah explained he’s not keeping him from them in his call to the prophetic work. Elisha prepared a farewell feast for his community, then followed Elijah.
In the first selection, 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14, Elisha becomes the prophet in Elijah’s place, the fulfillment of the succession plan. Elijah tried to tell Elisha to stay put, but Elisha would not leave Elijah, and followed him until Elijah reached the Jordan. Fifty other prophets of God were waiting—a reminder that Elisha was not alone (Elijah, in 1 Kings 19, clamed he was the only prophet left, but Obadiah, Ahab’s servant, had hidden one hundred prophets, fifty to a cave, in 1 Kings 18:7-15). Elijah took the mantle that he had cast over Elisha and parted the Jordan River with it so he and Elisha could cross on dry ground to the other side, symbolic of the separation of earth and heaven, oppression and freedom. Elisha asked Elijah if he could inherit a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah warned Elisha that was a difficult ask, but it might be granted. Then Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind, God’s chariot separating Elisha from Elijah in a vision of the separation of heaven and earth. Elisha tore his own clothes, a symbol of both mourning and the rending of heaven and earth. However, Elisha picked up Elijah’s mantle, struck the Jordan, and crossed back over, symbolizing that he had taken up the role as prophet of God.
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 is a song of assurance of God’s deliverance. Paired with the reading from 2 Kings, the first two verses tell the congregation that the psalmist cries out so God will hear them. Verse 11 begins with remembering all that God has done for the people, all God had taught them, and the psalmist acknowledges and remembers. God is the one who works wonders and delivers the people. God has rescued and redeemed the people in the past, through the waters and whirlwinds, and led the people “by the hand of Moses and Aaron” like a shepherd leads a flock through a storm. God isn’t on the other side of the storm; God walks through the storm with us.
Psalm 16 is paired with the 1 Kings 19 reading, a song of faith in God even in difficult times. God is the one who gives counsel, whose presence is steadfast. The psalmist sings of the joy of following God’s ways and knowing God will deliver them. Unlike those who worship other gods, the psalmist remains faithful because God is always faithful.
The Epistles selection continues in Galatians. In 5:1, 13-25, Paul writes of the freedom in Christ to a community still dividing on historic cultural lines. Paul writes of living by the Spirit as living in a way that lives out the commandments, as opposed to a literal legal understanding that Paul argued against (and we must remember not all Jewish people understood the law in a strict legalistic way). However, Paul is also concerned with those who would then toss out the law—instead, the law is summed up by Jesus as “love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul writes against those who would simply argue that they are saved by Christ and can do whatever they want. Rather, they are no longer under the law, but the law is lived out and is known by the fruits of the Spirit, and there is no law against living in kindness, gentleness, self-control, etc. When one lives by the Spirit they are guided by the Spirit and live as Christ lived.
In Luke 9:51-62, the Gospel shifts as Jesus sets his path toward Jerusalem, and these verses focus on following Jesus in two parts. In verses 51-56, the disciples are with Jesus visiting various villages, and they visit a Samaritan village but are not welcomed by them. Samaritans were those who lived in the northern kingdom after Solomon’s reign when Israel split into two. They had their own temple in Samaria instead of Jerusalem and believed that only the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) were scripture. They were often in tension with the rest of the Jewish community, and when Jesus was prepared to move on to Jerusalem, they rejected him. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, are known as the “Sons of Thunder” in Mark 3:17. Perhaps this nickname was for their temperament as they asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to consume them. But Jesus rebukes them. Following Jesus is not about power and authority over others: it is about sharing the power and authority of Christ in changing lives.
In verses 57-62, Jesus encounters others on the road who want to follow Jesus, but don’t understand what discipleship is, either. These people want to follow Jesus, but something is holding them back. Jesus warned the first one who asked that they will not feel settled—there will be no place of rest if they choose to follow Jesus. It is assumed by scholars that the one who asked about burying his father was waiting until his father died before he could follow Jesus. The third wanted time to say goodbye, but if one wants to follow Jesus, they cannot allow anything to hold them back. Again, following Jesus is about changed lives—however, the inner transformation Jesus offers is not something everyone desires.
The Narrative Lectionary continues its series on the Ten Commandments, with this third part from Exodus 20:12-16. Last week’s selection focused on the first four commandments. This selection focuses on the next five (leaving the final commandment for the last week). These five commandments are about how we love one’s neighbor as one’s self, starting with our immediate family by honoring our parents. Then, moving into the basic rules of society—don’t murder or harm someone. Don’t destroy relationships, especially in the covenant of marriage. Don’t take from others. And don’t lie. This starts from the family and moves outward to our neighbors in the basics of not causing harm to others.
The second selection 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 section of the Ten Commandments reading today from Exodus can be summed up under Leviticus 19:18.
Becoming a disciple of Jesus is about following Jesus and becoming a student (that’s what “disciple” means, after all). Becoming a student of the Way of Christ means having the power and authority that God has given us but not using it in a way of domination and superiority, or even violence and fear, but using power and authority to free us all to love one another. The power and authority of Christ frees us from the ways of the world that prioritize the wrong values of wealth, worldly power, and notoriety. The people who wanted to follow Jesus were not necessarily pursuing those values outright, but Jesus hints that their underlying reasons might not be honoring their parents or wanting to say goodbye, but rather making sure their father’s inheritance passed on to them, making sure everyone knew as they said goodbye what they were off to do. In other words, playing subtly into the ways of this world rather than the way of Christ. Even the disciples struggled with this, especially James and John, who later wanted to be the greatest among the disciples. It’s not easy to let go of the ways of this world, but Christ calls us into a new way of being, a transformed life.
Call to Worship
Our God is great, and holy, and just;
We praise God’s name in the sanctuary.
Our God is merciful, mighty, and brings peace;
We proclaim God’s name in our world.
Our God is loving, kind, and strong;
We prepare for God’s work in our lives.
We gather here in worship,
For God has done so much for us,
We praise God’s name! Alleluia!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Living Christ, we confess that we are still tied to the ways of this broken world. These ways lead us to dead ends—concerns about wealth and inheritance, fame and notoriety. We want to have safety and security, to have enough, to be remembered in this world—yet we follow You, who gave up all possessions, and became humble enough to be another forgotten criminal executed by the state. However, Your name is exalted above all other names because of Your humility, because You gave everything up for us. Remind us that glory is not found in what we have or how our name is praised, but it is found in denying our own desires to love one another, care for one another, and live into Your kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. We confess this is difficult for us, O Christ, so we seek Your wisdom and guidance, to live into the kingdom You are creating all around us. In Your name we pray. Amen.
Wherever two or three are together, Christ is among us. Wherever two or three are together, the kingdom of God is at hand. Wherever two or three are together, love sustains us. Wherever two or three are together, we reflect the image of God’s oneness. Wherever we are together, we know God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and peace. Go and share the good news, together, that we are God’s beloved community, in which all are forgiven, all are restored, and all shall be made well. Amen.
Spirit of the living God, fall upon us like dew in the morning. Refresh us and revive us. In a world of destruction and chaos, death and despair, breathe life into us. Mold courage into our hearts. Pour out Your love into our veins to move our bodies for justice. Spirit of the living God, bring us back to life, and help us to share Your life abundantly. Amen.