Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Psalm 119:97-104; Genesis 32:22-31 and Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
Narrative Lectionary: Joshua Renews the Covenant, Joshua 24:1-15 (16-26); (Matthew 4:8-10)
The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures has followed the rise of the prophets during the season after Pentecost. For the second half of the season the focus has been primarily on Jeremiah. We conclude from the series on Jeremiah this week with the promise of the new covenant in 31:27-34. This passage marks the transition toward the end of this season, turning toward Reign of Christ Sunday (where we will revisit Jeremiah one last time). God spoke through the prophet, to a people taken into exile, that times would be changing, and what had been a time of pulling up and destroying would become a time of planting and rebuilding. Again, God speaks that the time would be changing, and a new covenant will be made by God with the people. Unlike the previous covenant that the people broke—though they were in relationship with God—this one is unbreakable, for it is written on their hearts, and all will know God, who has forgiven their sins and remembers them no more.
This portion of Psalm 119:97-104 is part of a much longer psalm on instruction for worship and relationship with God. Each section begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet as an acrostic poem, and this entire section is under the letter Mem. This portion speaks to the love the psalmist has for God’s law, and how they meditate on God’s instructions day and night. Following God’s commandments has led the psalmist into greater wisdom and understanding. They have stayed true to God and are wary of evil. Sweet are God’s words, sweeter than honey, and there is nothing that will call the psalmist astray as they are rooted in God’s teachings.
The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is the story of Jacob’s encounter with the angel in 32:22-31. Jacob and his family were on their way to encounter his brother Esau, whom he fled from as a youth. The night before, Jacob and his family crossed the Jabbok River, but Jacob decided to sleep away from them. A stranger wrestled with him until dawn, knocking Jacob’s hip out of socket but Jacob managed to overpower him anyway, and would not let the stranger go until the stranger blessed him. The stranger called him Israel, one who wrestles with God, though the stranger refused to tell Jacob his name. Jacob named the place Peniel, the face of God, for he had wrestled with God face-to-face and prevailed. Throughout the book of Genesis, places and people are given names of importance in their encounters with God.
Psalm 121 is an ancient song of knowing God’s presence and help. Hills and mountains were seen in the ancient world as where the gods dwelled, but the psalmist knows that their help is in God, who made heaven and earth. God is the protector and defender, the one who keeps our lives and knows every movement we make, protecting us from birth until death, forever.
The Epistle readings continue in the series of 1-2 Timothy with 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5. Paul encourages Timothy to continue with what he has learned through scripture and what he has been taught. Paul commissions Timothy to preach the word, even when people don’t want to hear it. Some in the early churches were drawn to other preachers who said things the people wanted to hear, instead of the gospel of Christ, which called for a transformation of lives. Paul encourages Timothy to be persistent, to cast off what is false and cling to what is true, and to encourage others to believe in Christ.
Luke 18:1-8 contains a parable in which a widow persisted in her demands for justice from a judge. The judge himself didn’t care—he had no respect for people or for God—but because the woman wouldn’t give up in her pursuit of justice, the judge relented just so she’d stop bothering him. Isn’t God much greater than this unjust judge? Jesus assured the disciples that God would grant justice to those who cried out, to those who were desperate enough. However, Jesus wondered if the people would remain faithful to God when the time of judgment comes.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on God’s faithfulness in covenant, and in Joshua 24:1-15, Joshua called the entire people who had come out of the wilderness, all the tribes, to renew the covenant with God. Joshua reminded the people of what God has done for them through their ancestors, into the land that God gave them. Joshua and his family chose to serve the Lord their God, but all must decide whether to serve the gods of the lands and the peoples around them, or the God who was with them since the time of their ancestors. The longer portion of 16-26 contains the people’s response and Joshua’s charge to them. The people committed to serving God, because God was the one who brought them out of their enslavement and out from oppression by all the other nations. However, Joshua warned the people that they had to commit with their whole heart—they couldn’t just say the words at that moment and later turn from God, for they would know God’s judgment. The people again declared that God was the one they would serve, and Joshua commanded them to put away the idols and foreign gods, to focus on the God of Israel, the one God.
The supplemental passage of Matthew 4:8-10 contains the last temptation of Jesus by the devil in the wilderness. In Matthew’s account, this last temptation is for Jesus to have all the cities of the world if he bows down and worships the devil. Jesus resists Satan and tells him to go away, because it is written that one is to worship God only, to serve only God.
The ethicist Miguel De La Torre speaks about embracing hopelessness, that hope is a byproduct of white western European Christianity that colonizes people into believing that God will rescue them from the systems of the world, and we don’t have to do anything about it. Hopelessness instead causes desperate people to act and change things. We see this hopelessness in the parable Jesus told about the widow—because that judge was not going to change. Nothing was going to change until the widow got him to change out of her desperate endeavor not to give up. That wasn’t hope—that was desperation. The judge himself doesn’t change. Even the system doesn’t change, but it changes enough for her own self.
In a sense, the exiles in Jeremiah had no hope left, but in the hopelessness of it all they began to rebuild their lives in Babylon. That’s where the true hope springs forth, not a false hope that keeps us complacent. Both Paul and Joshua know that people will not change, whether it was renewing the covenant in the promised land and saying the words they thought Joshua wanted to hear, or Paul speaking to Timothy hundreds of years later about the early church and how people become complacent, only hearing what they want to hear. There’s not much hope in that. The hope is found in the hopelessness, the act of desperation that causes us to commit to change. Paul committing even in prison to not give up the Gospel. Jesus committing to the cross that death will not have the final word. How desperate are we to actually commit to transforming this world? Or do we simply pay lip service? It’s something faithful people have wrestled with for thousands of years, and we continue to wrestle with it now.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 121:1-2)
I lift my eyes up to the hills,
From where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.
Institutions will fall, and people will fail us,
Only God’s love endures forever.
Turn your hearts to God,
Our true hope, strength, and power.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Ancient and Almighty and Awesome God, we come before You, confessing that we don’t set our hearts and minds on You. We set our hearts and minds on the things of this world that we have made: worldly power, wealth, and notoriety. We have FOMO (fear of missing out) so bad that it consumes us as sin. We want what others have. We measure ourselves against what others are doing. We have failed to remember that we are all Your children, each one of us, made in Your image. We are fearfully and wonderfully, awesomely and amazingly made by You, our Creator, and we have treated ourselves like trash. Forgive us, O God, and help us to restore in ourselves our understanding of worth and purpose as Your children, and not by the world’s measures. For it is the things of this world, the stuff we have created and measured ourselves against that is the garbage we don’t need. Help us to chuck it, O God, and instead, remind us that we worship You, the One who made us, who made all the planets and stars and galaxies and this mighty universe and made us from the dust of it all into something incredibly beautiful and wondrous. We are Your children, O God, and may we never forget it, as You call us by name to discipline, disciple, and delight in. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from Psalm 121:4-8)
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
You are loved, renewed, and restored. Go and share the good news of God’s blessings, for you are God’s beloved child, and with you, God is well-pleased. Amen.
Sweet Spirit, breathe into us Your power to discern the right choices and paths for our lives. Breathe into us Your peace and patience in a world that wants us to make decisions fast. Breathe into us a sense of value and purpose as Your children. Breathe into us the possibility of new life now, as part of our eternal life in You. Sweet Spirit, help us to breathe out the vitriol, the snappy judgments, the condescension that permeates our thinking. May we let go of the negativity that does not shape us for the better but drags us down. May we breathe in the sweetness of life that You have for us, Sweet Spirit. Amen.