Worship Resources for November 5th, 2023—Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, All Saints Day

Revised Common Lectionary:
All Saints Day: Revelation 7:9-17 and Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost: Joshua 3:7-17 and Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37; Micah 3:5-12 and Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12

Narrative Lectionary: Elijah at Mt. Carmel, 1 Kings 18: (17-19) 20-39 (Mark 9:2-4)

All Saints Day is November 1, commonly observed on the first Sunday in November in many Protestant churches. The readings begin with the vision John of Patmos beheld of the heavenly throne room, in which the faithful who have come through “the great ordeal,” who have suffered because of their faith in Christ. They will find comfort, peace, and life in God, as they join together to praise God, from every tribe, nation, and language.

Psalm 34:1-10, 22 is a song of praise for God’s deliverance. In the first three verses, the psalmist leads the people into worship and praise of God. In verses 4-6, the psalmist testifies to God’s answer and deliverance and God’s saving power. Verse 7 declares that God is with those who are in awe of God, and God protects them. Verses 8-10 remind the people that when they are faithful, they will know God’s goodness and provision. Verse 22 concludes that those who turn to God will be acquitted of wrongdoing.

1 John 3:1-3 reminds the readers that the faithful in Christ are children of God. However, the children of God will become something more, something yet to be revealed, but we have a glimpse in Christ, that we will be like Christ. So we must become Christ-like.

The Gospel lesson for All Saints Day is the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12. Jesus shared blessings in verses 3-11 to those who usually did not receive good news: the poor in spirit (Luke’s account just uses the descriptor “poor”), those who are grieving, those who are powerless, those who strive for righteousness and justice, those who are kind and compassionate, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted. Jesus concludes this section with a blessing for those who experience gossip and slander and persecution against them because they follow Jesus. Their reward, as for all those who has listed, will be great in God’s reign, and their experience is the same as the prophets who came before them.

For the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures has followed the ancestors of our faith from Abraham and Sarah and their family into a nation that was liberated by God and wandered in the wilderness. Now, the people arrive at the land promised and cross the Jordan river. God speaks to Joshua, now the leader of Israel after Moses, and twelve are chosen to represent the tribes and to carry the ark of God across the river on dry ground. Similar to passing through the Red Sea from their enslavement to freedom, the people now pass from wilderness into homeland. Some words of caution for preaching this passage today, in light of the situation in Israel and Gaza: this is a complicated text. The passage in verse 10 speaks of the living God driving out the peoples in the land before them. This has far too often been used, by Christians, to justify what has happened in the Middle East. Rather, the focus ought to be on the living God being present: for we know the living God is the God of all people, a God who is active in the world, ever-expanding our limited understanding of who we are. This living God was the same God who was always with the Israelites and would continue to be with them even among other peoples.

Psalm 107 is a song of thanksgiving for what God has done for the people throughout history. Verses 1-7, 33-37 sing of God bringing in the people who have been scattered, leading them in straight paths, providing for those who hunger and thirst. Whether coming out of captivity in Babylon or coming out of oppression in Egypt, the song sings of what God has done and continues to do for the people.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Micah 3:5-12. A prophetic warning against the abuse of power, Micah speaks on behalf of God to prophets who proclaim peace when they profit from it, and war when they do not. Micah on the other hand, is “filled with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might” (vs. 8) and calls out the political leaders, priests, and prophets, and pronounces judgment on Jerusalem, the seat of political and religious power. Another word of caution preaching this passage, that Christians not be too hasty to point the finger in the current turmoil in Israel and Gaza, without reading this in the context of Christian Nationalism in the United States.

Psalm 43 is a plea to God for vindication. Most scholars believe it is the final stanza of Psalm 42, and the psalmist believes they are innocent and calls upon God to keep them from injustice. The psalmist cries out to God to send out God’s light and truth, but they rest assured knowing that God will justify them, and they know they can place their trust in God.

The Epistle reading continues in 1 Thessalonians with 2:9-13. Paul reminds the church in Thessalonica of his witness to them before and his conduct as an example of encouragement in the faith, as a parent with children. Paul gives thanks that the Thessalonians accepted what Paul shared not as his own word but as from God, and that word is at work in them.

The Gospel lesson of Matthew 23:1-12 contains the beginning of Jesus’s final discourse to his disciples in Matthew’s account. In chapter 22, after a series of parables, Jesus was challenged by others—Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees. Now, Jesus turns to the crowds and his disciples to teach them directly and denounces some of the religious leaders of his day, among the Pharisees and scribes, for the hypocrisy he sees. Jesus calls out some of their behavior of showing off religiosity without living out the teachings they espouse. Jesus instructs the crowds and his disciples to listen to their teachings, but they do not practice as they do. Instead, they ought to see each other as equals, students with one teacher, children with one heavenly parent/Father, and they are to be humble and servants of each other.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the prophet Elijah at Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18. In verses 17-19, Ahab confronts Elijah as a troublemaker, but Elijah calls out Ahab for his unjust practices and following the Baals instead of God. Elijah instructs Ahab to have the priests of Baal meet him at Mount Carmel. In verses 20-39, all the Israelites joined the prophets at Mount Carmel while Elijah had a showdown with the prophets of Baal. The prophets of Baal and Elijah both set altars for sacrifice. When the prophets of Baal called for fire, nothing happened. Elijah built an altar with twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel, and had the wood for the offering soaked with water several times. When Elijah called upon the God of his ancestors, and fire came down, burning everything up, so there was no water left.

The supplementary verses of Mark 9:2-4 contain the beginning of the Transfiguration, when Jesus went up the mountain with three of his disciples and was transfigured before them. Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with him.

Again, a word of caution preaching from Revised Common Lectionary passages, even the Gospel lesson, as it can be taken in supersessionist ways. We must always look into the political, cultural, and historical contexts of these texts. We must always look for the message that was for the people who heard these passages in their time, and whether that is an appropriate message for us today, or whether God might be saying something new to us in those old stories. How do we live in lands where there were other peoples before us? How do we acknowledge and honor the people we live among today? How do we live faithfully to Christ when the words of Christ have been used in harmful, horrific ways to proselytize, colonize, and justify genocide? What can we do for the work of reparation, restoration, and reconciliation, if possible, with others? How do we avoid our own hypocrisy that Jesus warned against?

Call to Worship (1 John 3:1-2)
See what love the Father has given us,
That we should be called children of God.
The reason the world does not know us
Is that the world did not know God.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
What we will be has not yet been revealed.
What we do know is this: when God is revealed,
We will be like Christ, for we will see Christ as he is.
Come, worship God, in spirit and in truth,
For we are God’s children.

Alternative Call to Worship (Psalm 34:1-3, 8)
I will bless the Lord at all times,
God’s praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord,
Let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt God’s name together.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
Happy are those who take refuge in God.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God of our Ancestors, we confess that we have failed to see one another as siblings, as Your children. We Christians have perpetuated division through stereotypes, prejudice, and hate. We have practiced supersessionism and harmed our Jewish neighbors. We have been ignorant of colonizing practices and Western supremacy and harmed our Muslim neighbors. We have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. As we ask for forgiveness, O God, we also ask for guidance on how we hold ourselves accountable. We pray for Your wisdom and insight in how we enter the hard work of reparation, reconciliation, and restoration. Lead us in Your ways of justice and mercy, in listening and understanding. Amen.

God made us, God knows us, and still, God loves us. God knows that we are capable of correction and transformation. God knows we can do the hard work together. God knows we have the capacity to love and grow and change, even the people we think are incapable of it. Know that when you turn back to God, you are forgiven, and you have been empowered to go and serve one another, forgive one another, and love one another. Go with this good news. Amen.

Teacher Jesus, we pray for Your instruction to be written in our hearts. We pray that we might practice what You taught us, every day, so that we learn it by heart. Not the verses of old, but the teachings You continue to instill in us: the practice of loving our neighbor as ourselves, the homework of justice, the exercises of peacemaking. Teach us how to open our hearts wider and embrace one another, with our differences. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Prayer for All Saints Day
Living God of our Ancestors, on this day we give You thanks for all who have gone before us, for the ancestors who gather at the table that has been prepared. We thank You for their example and witness. Help us to learn from our ancestors, to recall what they have learned by experience and knowledge, and to learn from their mistakes. Help us not to repeat them, but to grow from them so we may teach the next generation to live anew. Amen.

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