Worship Resources for November 12, 2023—Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 and Psalm 78:1-7; Amos 5:18-24 and Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Narrative Lectionary: Hosea 11:1-9 (Mark 10:13-14)

In our first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, we have followed the ancestors of the faith from a family to a nation, from their oppression in Egypt into the wilderness, and now, into the land promised them. God made a covenant with Abraham and with Jacob, and God made a covenant with the people through Moses at Sinai. In the final weeks of our journey through these stories in this season after Pentecost, God makes a covenant with the people at Shechem, as told by Joshua. Recalling the covenant made with Abraham, Joshua gives the people a choice. They can remember how God brought them out of Egypt, or they can follow the gods of the land they currently live in. The people respond that they remember God, who brought them out of oppression and protected them from their enemies. Once again, Joshua gives the people a choice: to serve others, or to serve the God who delivered them, for God is holy, but also described as jealous. The people declare their loyalty to God, so Joshua instructs them to put away the foreign gods and idols. The people pledge themselves to serve and obey God.

Psalm 78:1-7 is the first portion of a long psalm telling of Israel’s history of rebellion, until David is king. In the first four verses, the psalmist speaks of the mystery of old, the wisdom that has been passed down from their ancestors, and that they will not hide these stories, these teachings, from the next generation. They will declare what God has done for the people. In verses five through seven, the psalmist recalls the law that was established through Moess, most likely what was given in Deuteronomy, as Moses commanded the people to teach their children so the next generation might know what God has done, and to keep God’s commandments.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures focuses on the prophet Amos, and in 5:18-24, the prophet speaks about the day of the Lord. This day of judgment of God is not what people think it is. It is not something to be desired, but a reminder that we all, the entire world, is held accountable for not living into God’s ways. God further speaks through the prophet that what God desires is not festive worship for a show—God actually despises worship that is empty—but the actual practice of justice and living into righteousness, like waters that never cease.

Psalm 70 is a prayer to God for deliverance from their enemies. The psalmist prays against those who are threatening the psalmist’s life—or at least, those who are persecuting them with ridicule. The psalmist turns to a general prayer for all who seek God, that they would rejoice and glorify God. The psalmist concludes that they have nothing to offer, but they are in need, and God is the only one who can deliver them.

The Epistle reading continues in 1 Thessalonians with 4:13-18, turning to Paul’s understanding of the resurrection for those who have died while waiting for Christ’s return. Paul writes against the belief held by the Romans that there was no resurrection, but that they who are faithful in Christ believe that he rose and that those who have died will also rise. Paul held on to the hope that Christ would return in his lifetime, and that somehow all the faithful would be gathered together with Christ. The worldview of the first century was that the heavens were physically above the earth, so we have to understand Paul’s words in the context of how he understood the physical world.

Jesus returns to teaching parables in this final discourse before his betrayal in Matthew 25:1-13. In the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, we often focus on the bridesmaids who were foolish and didn’t bring enough oil, but the scripture teaches us that they all fell asleep. None of them were innocent; not one of them were completely faithful. While the surface level of this parable teaches that the wise were prepared for a longer wait for the return of the bridegroom while the foolish were not, when we did deeper, we might ask why the wise didn’t think they could share with the “foolish?” Why was their salvation more important? Perhaps the lesson could be that we are all called to share, and that we are responsible for living into the Gospel with our neighbors and not focusing on only ourselves.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the prophet Hosea in 11:1-9. Hosea, like many of the other prophets, used his family life as a way of sharing God’s story. In these verses, God recalls how God’s relationship with the people of Israel was like a father and son, caring for an infant and toddler, but that the child has grown up and rebelled against the father. At first, God declares that the people will get what they deserve: if they go after idols, they might as well go back to their oppression in Egypt. If they turn to the political power of Assyria, then they will go into exile in Assyria. The people seem bent on rebelling, the way a child might rebel against their parent. Yet God loves the people so much God cannot give them up. God cannot allow them to be completely destroyed. God vows at the end of verse nine not to come in wrath against the people.

The supplementary verses of Mark 10:13-14 contain Jesus’s blessing of the children, as people were bringing children to him, but the disciples were stern with the parents. Jesus told the disciples not to stop them but to let the children come to him, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to those like them.

As we near the end of the season after Pentecost we are approaching Reign of Christ Sunday (November 26 this year). We begin reading these passages that point to the day of the Lord and to Christ’s return, though we know now our worldview is different than the worldview of the first century. How do these passages still speak to us today? What can they teach us about faithfully waiting for God, who is also actively at work in our world and in us? What does the return of Christ mean (perhaps it isn’t what we read about in popular literature?) What if it is more important to use the time given to us, now, to live into God’s ways of justice and righteousness?

Call to Worship
We know not the day or the hour,
We know Christ is at work in our world and in us.
We know not when our own time will come,
We know Christ is at work in our world and in us.
The prophets have taught us to do justice, practice kindness, and walk humbly with God,
We know Christ is at work in our world and in us.
Wisdom continues to teach us to listen, and learn, and live,
We know Christ is at work in our world and in us.
We join together to praise and worship our God,
For Christ is at work in our world and in us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of our Ancestors, we recall our ancestors of the faith, their faithfulness and their mistakes. We know that our own lives have failed to measure up. We have been swayed by the ways of this world to seek our own gain, our own safety and security and welfare, and have neglected the most vulnerable among us. In a world that is so broken right now, help us, O God, to become menders. Forgive us of our short-sightedness and selfishness and remind us to help one another. Remind us to pause and stop for the ones in need who cross our path. Call us into Your ways of justice and righteousness to make changes in our communities that will bring in the marginalized and lift up the downtrodden. Call us into Your glorious work of kin-dom building. In the name of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life so we might all have life now, we pray. Amen.

Therefore encourage one another with these words: God loves you so much. God’s love is made known to us in Jesus Christ and is a love that can never be taken from us and can never die. You are God’s beloved child, and every time you say yes to God, God is well-pleased with you. Say yes to God right now. Live into God’s ways of love, justice, and mercy, and know that God’s steadfast love endures forever. Amen.

Holy One, as we lean deep into this season, knowing that the year is drawing soon to a close, we pause and give thanks for all You have done for us. You have brought us through hardship and loss. You have brought us through cold and warmth. You have brought us through brokenness and healing. We are not fully restored, but we feel Your healing work in us. As the season is about to turn again soon, we pause and give thanks that You are a God that is forever turning us to look at things in a new way, to view our world at a new angle, to open our hearts more deeply to Your love than we thought possible. We bring our brokenness, our messiness, to You, and know that You will turn our mourning into dancing, our sorrow into joy, even if we cannot feel it yet. We give thanks for all You have done, and all You will do. Amen.

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