Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 32:1-14 and Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Isaiah 25:1-9 and Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
Narrative Lectionary: Ruth, 1:1-17 (4:13-17), (Mark 3:33-35)
We have followed the ancestors of the faith, from a family to a nation, in the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures this season after Pentecost. The famous Golden Calf story happens while Moses was up the mountain with God. Moses not only received the commandments, ordinances, and statues, but also instruction on how they as God’s people will conduct worship, the duties of the priests, and how to construct the tabernacle, the tent of God that will travel with the people once they leave Mt. Sinai, symbolizing God’s continued presence. God had just finished giving all these instructions to Moses and also two tablets with the words of the covenant written on them. Meanwhile, the people went to Moses’s brother Aaron and asked him to make gods for them to worship because they didn’t know what happened to Moses, who’d been up the mountain for over a month. Aaron took the gold jewelry offered by the people and formed it into the image of a calf. The people worshiped the calf and had a raucous celebration, probably similar to the peoples around them that also worshiped idols in such ways. At first, God told Moses to go down to the people “that you brought out of Egypt.” God seems to have forgotten it was they who brought the people out. Then God decides to destroy the people, and instead will make a great nation from Moses. However, Moses intercedes, and reminds God that these are God’s people, whom God brought out of Egypt. If God destroyed them, it would give fodder to the Egyptians and other enemies that God wasn’t so great. Instead, Moses invoked the names of the ancestors and God’s covenant with them. God relented, changed their mind, and did not destroy the people.
Psalm 106 is a song of praise to God for God’s faithfulness, despite the people not always remaining faithful themselves. Verses 1-6 praise God for God’s goodness and steadfast love. The psalmist blesses those who practice justice and righteousness. The psalmist prays for God’s deliverance of the people and that they might be a witness of God’s faithfulness, and in verse 6, confesses on behalf of the people and their ancestors their sins in not following God’s ways. Verses 19-23 specifically recall the creation of the golden calf and how Moses interceded on their behalf, so that God would not destroy them, though they had forgotten God.
The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Isaiah 25:1-9. This is a psalm praising God for delivering the people from their oppression, especially the most vulnerable, the poor and needy, covered in God’s protection and shelter. In an apocalyptic vision, heaven and earth come together on the mountain of God, with a rich banquet for all the people. God will destroy death and wipe away the tears from those who mourn. God will at last save the people from all oppression, including death.
Psalm 23 is the Shepherd’s Psalm, long attributed to David the shepherd-king. The psalmist sings of how God cares for them like a shepherd cares for their sheep—leading them to nourishing green pastures and cool waters, restoring their soul like one tends to the needs of the sheep. Even when oppression and death close in, the psalmist has no fear because God is with them, present like a shepherd with their staff. God prepares the table for the psalmist even before their enemies, anointing them and overflowing their cup, and they know God’s presence and goodness and kindness will be with them always.
The Epistle reading concludes its short series in Philippians with 4:1-9. Paul gives final words of encouragement and instruction to the church in Philippi. There is a brief mention of Euodia and Syntyche, and what Paul urged back in 2:2 is repeated here in this context of seeking help for these two, to be united in Christ. The two have both worked for the Gospel alongside Paul and Clement. Paul had written of joy in the Lord and expresses it again here, calling upon the church in Philippi to rejoice and to be in prayer to God, and to know God’s peace. This section concludes with further words of encouragement to continue to live into God’s ways as they have been taught, and God’s peace will be made known to them.
Matthew 22:1-14 contains the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. In this parable, it is a king who gave a wedding banquet for the son, but the invited guests refused to come. Some of the guests even mistreated or killed the servants the king sent. So the king sent soldiers to burn their city and destroy those who murdered. Then the king decided to send his servants into the city to invite everyone they saw into the banquet, because those originally invited were not worthy. Everyone was invited in, both good and bad, and the hall was filled with guests. However, one guest did not have a wedding robe, and was questioned by the king as to how he got in. He was speechless, so the king ordered him to be thrown out into the “outer darkness” to suffer. The parable concludes with a line, possibly added later, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Parables have layers, and while on the surface this parable about the kingdom of heaven might be about how Jesus saw the religious leaders as rejecting God’s kingdom, it could also be a warning to Christians during the time Matthew’s Gospel was written, around 75-85 C.E., that they, too, have forgotten what God’s kingdom was about.
The Narrative Lectionary turns to Ruth. In the first seventeen verses, the reader learns that Naomi, her husband and two sons were from Bethlehem but had settled in Moab due to a famine. While there, her husband died. Her sons married but then they both also died. Her two daughters-in-law were Moabite women. Later instructions in Ezra-Nehemiah forbade marriage outside of Israel and specifically mentioned Moab, but the book of Ruth shows readers that these laws changed for different times. When Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem because the famine was over, she urged her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to return to their homes. Marriages were to help with inheritance, and if a husband died, a woman would marry the husband’s brother, and the first child would be considered the heir of the dead husband, to pass down the inheritance. But if there were no more brothers, then the widow would return to her father’s home and hope to be remarried. Naomi clearly wanted what was best for these women, who would be foreigners in Bethlehem, as she was in Moab. But Ruth refused to leave her, and shared a vow to remain with her” to live where she lived, to die where she died, and to worship the same God. Ruth essentially became Naomi’s adopted daughter. In 4:13-17, Ruth married Boaz, a close kinsmen, and had a son. Naomi was praised by her neighbors for God’s faithfulness, because Ruth, her daughter-in-law, provided for her. Ruth’s son Obed became a grandson for Naomi, and Obed was the grandfather of King David.
The supplementary verses of Mark 3:33-35 contain Jesus’s words about who his true family were. When his mother, brothers, and sisters came for him, he asked the crowd who were his family: “those who do the will of God.”
How do we do God’s will? Certainly we know from the story of the golden calf that we are called to remember what God has done for us and for our ancestors, and to repent of where we have gone astray. The parable of Jesus reminds us that faith is lived out in how we practice hospitality and equity, justice and righteousness. Isaiah reminds us that while in this life we struggle, God’s desire for us is an end to our grief and loss, for heaven and earth to join together, for God’s presence to always be known. And the Narrative Lectionary reminds us that our understandings of laws and rules change, but what is important is the relationships we foster. How we treat one another with kindness and compassion. How do we do God’s will? We look to our ancestors in the faith. We study the scriptures. We practice kindness and do justice. But it must become our way of life, not something we do when we want to and skip when we don’t. We must, as Paul urged the Philippians, keep on doing what we have learned, experienced, and witnessed, and the God of peace will be with us.
Call to Worship (Philippians 4:8, 7, 4)
Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
Whatever is just, whatever is pure,
Whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
Think about these things.
Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received.
And the God of peace will be with you.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
Guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Rejoice in the Lord always;
Again I will say, Rejoice!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Loving God, You created us to be in relationship with You, with creation, and with one another. We have distorted and abused those relationships. We have forgotten You and Your ways. We have neglected our fellow creatures that we share this planet with and have misused the Earth and its resources. We have oppressed and marginalized the most vulnerable among us, including those in poverty and living on the streets, those struggling with mental health, those suffering from addiction, those who are from other countries that we deem less desirable, those whose gender or orientation is in the minority. Forgive us for not loving our neighbor as ourselves. Forgive us for judging others. Forgive us, most of all, for the harm we have caused by neglect, ignorance, and bigotry. Call us into repentance. Lead us in knowledge of the ways of reparation and restoration. Guide us into paths of healing. Encourage us to seek forgiveness with accountability for our own actions where we have caused harm. Empower us to use our privilege to raise up the voices of others, so that justice and restoration can be possible. In the name of Your Son Jesus Christ, who laid down all his privilege, becoming humble to the point of death on the cross, we pray all things. Amen.
God is the Good Shepherd, who continues to lead us back to the paths of righteousness when we go astray. God knows our name, knows our needs. God knows our strengths and weaknesses and continues to encourage us to be who we were created to be: made in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (Ephesians 2:10). Live into this knowledge of God’s intention for your life, to do good works, and prepare to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. May you seek reparation and forgiveness and restoration and know that God forgives you and loves you. Amen.
God of Wisdom and Insight, quiet our minds from the busy noises of the world around us. Remind us now and then to put down the phones and turn off the computers. Perhaps even to turn off the lights and light a candle instead. To quiet our souls from all the notifications and flashing lights that tug our attention to things in this world. Call us to open our Scriptures and read the words passed down to us, to ponder them in our hearts, to use the best scholarly resources to understand them further. Remind us to seek You in prayer and meditation, in words and in silence, in the cool breeze in the forest or the waves on the shore. Help us to breathe, and to breathe deep of the air You have given us, the wind that hovers over creation, and the Spirit You instill in us. In the name of Christ, who often went away to deserted places to pray, we now pray. Amen.