Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 65:17-25 and Isaiah 12; Malachi 4:1-2 and Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
Narrative Lectionary: Micah, (1:3-5); 5:2-5a; 6:6-8 (Matthew 9:13)
We are nearing the end of the season after Pentecost, and the Revised Common Lectionary wraps up the first selection series of the prophets, turning to the time after the exile in Isaiah 65:17-25. In this part of Isaiah commonly known as Third Isaiah, the prophet recognizes that the people of his time are returning to their old ways, forgetting what God has done for them. Yet the prophet still has hope that God will restore what has been destroyed, that God will remake what has been taken: God will create new heavens and a new earth. No more will the people be forced away; they will live where they have built, they will grow and thrive. No more shall there be harm or destruction, for God will respond before they even call for help.
Isaiah 12 is a psalm of thanksgiving to God. First Isaiah witnessed the destruction by Assyria of Israel and Samaria to the north and the attempted siege on Jerusalem, but Assyria did not pursue taking Judah. The prophet interprets their survival as God’s favor upon them. Though they were disobedient, God still saved them, and the prophet calls upon the people to sing for joy as to what God has done for them and for Zion.
The second selection for the Hebrew Scriptures turns toward the day of the Lord, the day of judgment, as the liturgical year turns toward Reign of Christ Sunday. The prophet Malachi prophesied that the day would come when God’s purifying fire would burn up all evildoers, so that there would be nothing left that evil could graft on to. Instead, the Sun of Righteousness would rise with healing in its wings for those who turn to God. This beautiful image conveys that God’s fire of judgment is for purifying and healing, not for destruction and dismay.
Psalm 98 is a song of thanksgiving to God for victory, which was an alternate selection for the first Psalm reading last week. God has remained faithful to the people of Israel, showing God’s steadfast love, and all the earth knows God’s victory. The psalmist calls upon the whole earth to make a joyful noise, to praise God. With musical instruments, and the music of the sea and floodwaters—everything is called to praise God, all of God’s creation. God is the one who judges the whole earth and judges the people rightly.
The Epistle readings conclude the series in 2 Thessalonians, with an exhortation for the believers to do what is right in 3:6-13. The writer urges the readers to keep away from those who have gone astray and have either been idle or just busybodies without doing anything to contribute to the community of faith. This was a specific concern with a specific community, and the writers urge them to consider who is working for the community of faith and living out the teachings that were passed to them and encourages the faithful to not stop doing what is right.
Luke 21:5-9 is part of Jesus’s final teachings to the disciples when he is in Jerusalem the last week of his life. While the disciples are admiring the temple, Jesus foretells that no one stone will be left. We must remember that the Gospel accounts were written after the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E., and Jesus is preparing the disciples for what is to come (therefore, the gospel writers are helping the listeners of their day understand why they must endure the troubles of their time). The disciples wonder when the destruction of the temple will take place, but Jesus assures them to not be alarmed. There will be people who will try to lead the believers astray. There will be natural disasters and wars and plagues, and even before that, persecution including trials and imprisonment. Nonetheless, Jesus assures them they will be innocent before God, and will endure for the sake of the gospel.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the prophet Micah, who brings both judgment and hope. In 1:3-5, God is coming to judge the people for false worship, in Samaria and Jerusalem, and judgment against the two country’s capitals, their leaders who had led them astray. Micah had witnessed Assyria taking Israel, destroying Samaria and sending the people into exile. However, in 5:2-5, Micah brings a word of hope, of a new king from David’s hometown, one who will rule the people in the future but whose origin is ancient. This ruler will bring peace for Judah. Yet in 6:6-8, we know that the people have continued to go astray. The prophet rhetorically asks what it is God requires of us. If the people are bringing offerings and sacrifices and yet destruction is still happening, perhaps the solution is not greater offerings and sacrifices, but a need to change themselves. God has shown them what is required: to do justice, practice loving-kindness, and walking in humility with God.
The supplementary verse is Matthew 9:13, where Jesus paraphrases Micah and Amos and other prophets by saying God desires mercy and not sacrifice, and Jesus tells those listening to go learn what that means.
As we near Reign of Christ Sunday we read passages from times of great struggle, for the ancient Israelites, for the disciples of Jesus, and for the early churches. All these point to a need for inner transformation that is outwardly expressed—a love of God that conveys love to one’s neighbor. A practice of mercy to others that demonstrates the mercy God has shown us. A commitment to justice that includes not only us, but the most vulnerable in our society. God’s desire is not a desire to punish for punishment’s sake, but that we learn from the consequences of our actions, and often that is painful. The time of judgment of God is often seen as a destructive, monumental act of widespread change, but just as often the prophets and apostles call the faithful to judge themselves if they are following God’s ways and to transform their own lives. As we approach the end of this liturgical year, where is God calling you to examine your own life and make changes for the new? Where is God’s purifying fire at work, burning up what is useless, but bringing healing and hope in your life? What worries and cares do you have—especially after yet another volatile election season in the U.S.—that you can lift up to Christ and hear the words of hope Jesus has for you, as he gave the disciples walking amidst the temple long ago? May the words of victory in the psalms bring some assurance and comfort to you in this time.
Call to Worship
Behold, the day is coming,
When God will make new heavens and a new earth.
Behold, the day is coming,
When we shall draw water from the well of salvation.
Behold, the day is coming,
When God will answer before we even call God’s name.
Behold, the day is here!
We gather to worship and pray and praise God’s name,
And we live into God’s ways of love, justice, and peace.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Justice and Righteousness, we confess that we demand Your judgment upon others but mercy for ourselves. Correct our thinking and our actions, O God, that we might desire mercy for all and live into Your ways of kindness and compassion. Direct us, O God, to judge ourselves and confess our sins, to repent and turn back to You, and work to repair and restore what we have broken. Guide us, O God, into Your ways of love, truth, and justice, so we might be caretakers of the earth, builders of hope, restorers of peace, and repairers of the world. Amen.
We hear the words of assurance from the poets, for the psalmists knew that even in times of despair, they would sing joyfully to our God. We hear the words of assurance from the prophets, that even when the faithful failed, God had plans for restoration. We hear the words of assurance from our ancestors in faith, that God did not forget them, and God continues to lead us all home, as far as we wander away. We hear the words of assurance from Jesus, that in Christ we have life abundantly. We are forgiven, loved, and restored. Listen to the words of old, and speak the words of hope to one another, by blessing and forgiving and restoring one another as Christ has restored you. Amen.
God of the Hopeless, God of the Discontent, God of the Dejected and Poor, there is much in the way of shadow and death in our world, but Your light shines in the shadows and bleakness. Your words are a lamp for our feet, a light for our path. Your love is made known to us through Jesus Christ but also through the love of one another. As much as we may want to give up, You do not give up on us. As much as we make ourselves unlovable, You still love us. Break through the hopelessness and despair, but let it also fuel us for the work of justice. May we not become content, but may we alleviate one another’s pain by engaging in compassion and kindness. May we never give up on love, for love endures all things. You are our God, and we know You hear our prayers, our cries, our desperate sighs, and You bring us to life, again and again. Amen.