Revised Common Lectionary: Haggai 1:15b-2:9 and Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98; Job 19:23-27a and Psalm 17:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38
Narrative Lectionary: Elisha Heals Naaman, 2 Kings 5:1-15a (Matthew 8:2-3)
We are nearing the end of the season after Pentecost, and the pattern of our readings turns toward Reign of Christ Sunday in the liturgical year.
The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, which has followed the prophets in this season, turns toward the promises of God to the people upon their return from exile. The prophet Haggai speaks of hope to the exiles returning home in 1:15b-2:9. The people had been away for around seventy years and their city and temple were destroyed and left to rubble. Yet the same God who brought them out of Egypt was bringing them home. Haggai spoke words of hope to the governor and high priest of the people of Israel, that though there were few, if any, who remembered the glory of the temple, the temple would become a place of prosperity. The treasure of other nations would come, and the splendor of the temple will be even greater than before. Haggai echoes what other prophets of his time, such as Second Isaiah, said regarding God’s restoration of the people and their home and temple to be even greater than what was before, and how other nations were drawn to support the people.
Psalm 145 is an acrostic poem, each verse beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verses 1-5 sings praise to God. One generation shall declare what God has done to the next generation, and the psalmist is in awe and meditates on God’s splendor and majesty. Verses 17-21 speaks of God’s faithfulness and righteousness, drawing close to the faithful who call on God’s name, and showing favor to those who honor God. The psalmist concludes with a vow to continue to praise God and calls upon all living things to bless God’s name.
An alternative selection is Psalm 98, another song of praise, probably sung after a battle victory. 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 short passage of Job 19:23-27a contains Job’s plea to God. Job knows that God lives, that God hears his prayer, but he wishes God would answer. He wishes his words were inscribed as a testimony of what he has been through, as evidence. Though Job’s friends have tried to find fault with Job, a reason for Job’s suffering, Job knows the only one who can answer truthfully is God.
Psalm 17:1-9 is the psalmist’s plea for God to answer their prayer. They know they have done nothing wrong and if God were to test their heart, they would be true. The psalmist has refuted the ways of violent people and has stayed true to God’s ways, and they know God will respond. The psalmist beautifully calls upon God to guard them as God’s precious one, to keep them safe from evil.
The Epistle reading continues its short series in 2 Thessalonians, turning toward mentions of Christ’s return and the day of judgment, with 2:1-5, 13-17. The writer (purporting to be Paul) urges the readers to not be worried. Instead, they ought to live as if the day of the Lord was already there. They need to be prepared for deception by leaning on the teachings that have been passed down to them so they can remain steadfast in the gospel they have received. There is a lawless one who isn’t named in this letter, but some political or religious leader of the time who put himself above others and claimed to be from God. It is Christ himself, the writer prays, who will bring comfort and encouragement.
Some Sadducees challenge Jesus in Luke 20:27-38. The Sadducees were one of several Jewish groups in the first century. They were part of the priestly group that was in charge of worship at the temple, and disagreed with the Pharisees, who were probably more closely aligned with Jesus’s views on the authority of scripture and on the belief in resurrection, and the Pharisees were not involved in the temple worship. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and use a story of a woman who was married more than once as an example of why there couldn’t possibly be a resurrection, because according to the Levitical tradition, when a man dies, his widow must marry his brother. If that’s the case, then when they all die and are resurrected, who is she married to? Jesus responds by telling the Sadducees they are thinking about the resurrection wrong. Marriage is a human institution, made necessary by our culture and tradition, but not necessary in God’s reign. And when God in scripture refers to their ancestors of the faith in speaking to the prophets, such as Moses, God refers to them in the present tense; so therefore, they must be living. To God, all the ancestors of the faith are alive. The way we view our world and our lives is not how God views us at all.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on God healing Naaman through the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 5:1-15a (this was part of the Revised Common Lectionary, the second selection of the Hebrew scriptures, back on October 9th). Naaman was the commander of the king of Aram’s army, but he suffered from leprosy. Naaman’s wife had a servant, an Israelite girl who was taken captive, and this servant told Naaman’s wife about the prophet in Samaria (the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel) who could heal. The king of Aram wrote a letter to the king of Israel on behalf of Naaman, but the king of Israel freaked out, because he wasn’t God. Elisha, God’s prophet, told the king of Israel to calm down and to let Naaman come to him, because then he would know there was a prophet in Israel. Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house, and Elisha’s messenger told Elisha to go wash seven times in the Jordan and he would be clean. Naaman was angry because it was too simple. It had to be more complicated than that, otherwise he could have just bathed at home. Naaman’s servants reasoned with him: he would rather do something difficult, instead of a simple act for healing? Naaman gives in, bathes in the Jordan seven times, and his skin is restored. Naaman then realizes there is no God but God, the God of Israel.
The supplementary text is Matthew 8:2-3, when a leper came to Jesus and told him that if he chose, he could make him clean. Jesus replied, “I do choose. Be made clean!” and immediately the man was made well, and his flesh restored.
We are often focused on the wrong things. Job’s friends were focused on figuring out what Job must have done to cause all the bad things to happen to him, instead of simply being present with Job while he was suffering. While we might not believe God causes bad things to happen, we often offer up meaningless platitudes when they do, which also do not help. For the people returning from exile, they probably could only see the destruction, and it was hard to imagine hope; yet the same God who brought them out of Egypt had brought them home. Nothing is impossible with God, and God would restore their temple and their home. For the church in Thessalonica, it was easy to get worried about different religious and political figures rising up and different gospels, but Paul reminded them to stay true to what had been passed down to them, to not be worried. Instead, judge yourself and live as if the day of the Lord is already upon us. Live into God’s ways all the time. Jesus countered the Sadducees because they asked the wrong question. It’s not about how our choices today affect us for after this life, for heaven or hell—it’s about how our choices today affect us and others today, and for the next generation among us. Christians have become short-sighted, focused on a ticket to heaven instead of an eternity that begins now. With a world posed to warm 2-3 degrees by the end of the century, the day of judgment is now. In a society where children and teachers are killed by gun violence, the day of judgment is now. We ought to be living today as if our lives are accountable right now, not some time in the future.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 98:1a, 4, 9b)
O sing to the Lord a new song,
For God has done marvelous things.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth,
Break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
God is coming to judge the earth;
God will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
Come, worship our God, who is just and true,
May we judge our own hearts, and live into God’s ways of justice and mercy.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that we have not lived into Your first commandment to us as human beings, back in the first chapter of Genesis. You called us to fill the earth and to have stewardship of it the way You have made and cared for all creation. You are a just and true God, but we have distorted Your image. We have imagined You as abusive and wrathful and have been abusive and harmful to Your creation and to each other. We have failed to live into Your commandment and have not lived as You intended. Call us into repentance, O God, to turn back to You and to Your ways, to restore Your image instead of our own. May we repent of our harm of the earth, and work quickly to repair and restore, so that the next generation may not live with the sins of ours. Call us into this restorative work, O God, so that we might seek forgiveness and lay a better foundation for those who come after us. Holy, Just, and True, You are the One we seek, Creator of us all. Amen.
God is so wise and loving, gracious and kind, that God always offers us a chance for repentance, an opportunity to repair, a way to restore. God desires for us to remember who we are as God’s beloved, to remember we are made in the image of God, and that the worst things we can do are not the last things done unto us, for Christ lives. You are precious to God. God loves you madly, and desires the best for you. Love one another. Repent of where you have gone wrong, and work to repair and restore. Seek healing and wholeness, and forgive as you have been forgiven. Live into God’s ways and know God is with you, always. Amen.
God of Justice, we often view judgment as harsh, condemning, something against us, instead of understanding that You call us to judge ourselves, to stop and listen for Your word whispering in our hearts. Your judgment is sound and Your decrees in scripture are true. You have called us to turn back to You. Your justice lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things. When it is harsh, it is because we have had too much and now are sent away empty. When we are too high on ourselves we are brought down, but when we have been crushed down, You raise us up. You are Just and True, and we trust Your words in our hearts, Your breath in our lives. We trust where You are leading us. Even when it is hard, You lead us forward into Your ways of justice and mercy. Help us to go forward together and to trust in You. Amen.