Worship Resources for November 19, 2023—Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Thanksgiving (U.S.)

Revised Common Lectionary
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Judges 4:1-7 and Psalm 123; Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 and Psalm 90: 1-8 (9-11), 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Thanksgiving: Deuteronomy 8:7-18; Psalm 65; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Luke 17:11-19

Narrative Lectionary: Isaiah’s Vineyard Song, Isaiah 5:1-7; 11:1-5 (Mark 12:1-3)

In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures for the twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, we are at the end of our journey following the ancestors of faith, from a family into a nation, from a people who wandered in the wilderness, to tribes living amongst others. In Judges 4:1-7, the people have made the same mistakes they made in the wilderness and rejected God’s ways. The tribes of Israel were facing oppression again from an enemy, this time in their new home. Once they arrived in the land promised to them, after Moses and Joshua, the people were ruled by judges who discerned what was right, and Deborah was the judge as well as a prophet of God. She instructed Barak to command the army of the Israelites as God had instructed her and proclaimed that God will deliver their enemies into their hand. Though the physical journey was complete for the people of Israel, the journey of wrestling with God would continue.

Psalm 123 is a prayer for help from God. The psalmist calls for God to have mercy on the people, because they have had enough of ridicule and scorn. The people turn and call upon God, so that God will take notice and help them.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is from the prophet Zephaniah. Like last week’s reading, the focus is on the day of the Lord, the day of judgment. Zephaniah was writing during the time of King Josiah, but before he implemented his reforms. For those who are complacent, Zephaniah warns, they will lose everything. They think that God will not allow bad things to happen to them, but they also have not turned back to God’s ways. Nothing worldly will be able to save people on the day of the Lord—no money, no power or authority or security measures. The whole earth will be consumed by God’s fiery passion. We are reminded that often the use of fire in the Hebrew scriptures refers to purifying, but it doesn’t mean a lack of destruction. Everything that is against God’s reign will be burned up, and Zephaniah warns that every inhabitant of earth will come to an end. This vision, like the one Amos shared in last week’s reading, countered the common view of the prophet’s day (and perhaps our own day, in common tropes about the world’s end) that only the wicked and evil, the enemies of the people, would be destroyed.

Psalm 90 is a prayer reflecting on God’s sovereignty and humanity’s fleeting place in the universe. From before anything was created, God existed, and has always been God. Humanity’s lifespan is so short, it passes quickly, yet humanity continues to sin and turn away from God. Human life isn’t easy—it’s mostly hardship—and then we are gone. The psalmist concludes this section with a beautiful statement of treasuring our days, asking God to help us understand how fragile we are, and to count our days in order “that we may gain a wise heart.”

The Epistle reading concludes its series with 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. Paul encourages the church in Thessalonica to be both patient and vigilant as they wait for Christ’s return, which Paul believed would happen in his lifetime. The political climate of the Roman Empire was fairly volatile, with violence from within the emperor’s family and the political machinations of those in Rome and in the Greek cities. Paul calls for the faithful to remain alert, especially in times when there seems to be peace, because everything can change quickly. They are to be awake and live not in the shadows but in the daylight, where people will see and know them by their actions and values. Paul believes that on the day of judgment, the faithful will be saved through Jesus Christ, so they need to encourage one another and build up each other in the faith.

Jesus teaches a parable commonly known as the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In this parable, a man went on a journey and summoned his servants, entrusting them each with money worth several year’s wages. The one who was entrusted with five invested it and made five, the one who was entrusted with two invested it and made two, but the one who was given one dug a hole and hid it. The story tells us that each were entrusted according to their ability. But when the owner returned, the servant who had hidden the one talent told him that he knew he was a “harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.” That servant had his talent taken from him to be given to the one who made ten talents, and the servant was thrown into the outer darkness. On the surface level of the parable, it may appear to be about faithfulness during a temporary absence. How do we use what God has given us in our lifetime? Are we worried about saving our own lives, or are we participating in the reign of God here and now? One could also say the parable teaches us that if we are not willing to risk, we are bound to lose. But the parable never equates the owner with God. The parable doesn’t even begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like …” So perhaps we should not assume this is about the kingdom of heaven, but rather, it could be about what happens when you resist worldly power and authorities. It costs to resist. Can you live with integrity when you resist evil? Can you face the judgment of others when you refuse to play by the rules of the world? Others will try to play the game and make more money and move up the ladder of worldly success, but at what cost, when we fail to live into God’s ways?

The Thanksgiving readings for the Revised Common Lectionary begin with Deuteronomy 8:7-18, part of Moses’s final discourse to the people preparing to enter the promised land, as he knew he would not be going with them. Moses reminds the people that when they are in the land God has led them to, they are to remember to keep God’s commandments and teachings. They are to recognize that everything they have comes from God and that they do not have a right to wealth. Instead, all have a right to food and water as given by God, and they are to remember how God led them out of their oppression in Egypt and through the wilderness safely, giving them water in the desert and manna from heaven. God is the one who has provided and will continue to do so, if they remain faithful.

Psalm 65 is a song of praise to God, who is the “hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest sea.” God is the great creator who answers the prayers of the faithful, and provides for all the earth, crowning “the year with your bounty.” Pastures and wilderness, meadows and hills and valleys—the are full of God’s presence that overflows on earth.

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 is part of Paul’s plea to the church in Corinth to help with the collection for the church in Jerusalem, containing mostly poor followers of Jesus. Paul reminds the church in Corinth that all blessings come from God, and that each person must discern before God what they ought to give, not out of compulsion, but out of faithfulness. God is the one who truly provides, and we proclaim the Gospel in our generosity. The church in Jerusalem has prayed for the Corinthians, because of all that God is providing, and so the church in Corinth ought to respond in faithfulness.

Luke 17:11-19 contains the story of ten lepers whom Jesus encountered between Galilee and Samaria. They kept their distance, but they asked for Jesus to have mercy upon them. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests, and while they were on their way, they were made clean. But only one, when he saw that he was healed, went back and thanked Jesus, and he was a Samaritan, an outsider. Jesus told him that his faith made him well. The story reminds us that often those of us on the inside forget to be in gratitude to God for all we have, and it’s often the outsiders, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the strangers, the most vulnerable—who demonstrate faithfulness in ways that we fail to do, especially in showing gratitude.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard in 5:1-7 and 11:1-5. 5:1-7 was the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures for the Revised Common Lectionary on October 8th). This song, or parable, speaks of God’s relationship with the people during the time of First Isaiah, and Judah was not keeping to God’s ways. God has done everything to keep the people save and to help them thrive, but they have chosen to go wild and follow other gods and live their own ways. Therefore, God will let Judah go wild. Like a vineyard that has had its hedges and walls destroyed and where weeds and brambles overgrow, so too will Judah struggle with the nations surrounding them. Because they do not stay true to God’s teachings, they will make poor political choices and violence will overtake the land, instead of justice and righteousness as God intended.

However, 11:1-5 declares that a shoot shall come up from the stump of Jesse. This section is not a continuation of the vineyard, but rather a reminder that even though the legacy of David has become like a stump instead of a mighty tree, but there is hope for a new king, one who rules as David did.

The supplementary verses of Mark 12:1-3 are from Jesus’s teaching in parables, and the beginning of the parable of the wicked tenants and the vineyard, and how those entrusted to care for the vineyard seized the servant of the vineyard owner and beat him and sent him away empty handed.

When we look back on our ancestors of the faith, the stories in the Hebrew scriptures and the stories of the early followers of Jesus, we see a common teaching of God’s faithfulness and that it is made known to us through the bountiful resources of our earth. Thanksgiving is not only a time of gratitude for harvest, it is a time of gratefulness for God who made the whole earth, and is a time when we ought to remember that the earth belongs to God, not to us. As this is Native American Heritage Month in the United States, we also remember that indigenous stewardship continues to this day. European colonization brought a version of Christianity that exploits the earth, its resources and its peoples, for temporary individual gain. It is the exact opposite of what scripture teaches us. It is the opposite of what indigenous people continue to teach us. Thanksgiving, perhaps, is a time to not only remove the colonial narrative of the first Thanksgiving, but the colonial mindset of how we care for the Creator’s earth. May we listen and learn, from our ancestors, and from the people who have been here long before us and continue to share in the sacred responsibility of stewardship.

Call to Worship (Psalm 100)
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is God that made us, and we belong to the Lord;
We are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Enter the Lord’s gates with thanksgiving, and God’s courts with praise.
Give thanks to God, bless God’s name.
For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever,
And God’s faithfulness to all generations.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty Creator, we confess that we have not lived into Your first instruction for us in Genesis, to care for the earth as You have cared for us. We have failed to live into our created intention, to be stewards of all our glorious creation. As we gather in this season of thanksgiving, we confess our sins. We have turned to the ways of the world and not to Your ways as passed down from our ancestors of the faith. We have turned to worldly measures of success through wealth, possessions, and notoriety, instead of living as You first desired: to care for the earth and its bounty so there will be an abundance for all. Forgive us of our sins. Call us into accountability of our own use of resources, but collectively may we hold our elected officials accountable, that they not be swayed by wealth and power of corporations that do not care for Your earth. Hold us to Your intention for us, to care for this earth as a precious gift from You, in whom we give our thanks. Amen.

Our God is a God of new beginnings. There is always a new day, a new week, a new month, a new season. There is always time to start doing the right thing. Repent, turn back to God’s ways, and live into the promises of God, for God loves you so much. Go and do the right thing by practicing justice, kindness, and humility. Amen.

Creator of the Earth, we give You thanks for all that we have. We are thankful for the beautiful earth You have given us that provides for us. We thank You for blue sky and white clouds, deep rich earth and clear water. We thank You for the bold colors of leaves in autumn, the night sky in winter dotted with stars. We thank You for the snow and ice and frost, and that it lasts only for its season, for in all seasons there is great beauty from You. We give You thanks and praise for the turning of seasons, that we can hold on, and let go, and see how You are making all things new. Amen.

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