Revised Common Lectionary: Lamentations 1:1-6 and 3:19-26 or Psalm 137; Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 and Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
Narrative Lectionary: Rescue at Sea, Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29 (Matthew 2:13-15)
The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures has followed the rise of the prophets through the season after Pentecost. Several weeks have been spent in Jeremiah, and now we turn to Lamentations. Though Lamentations was probably not written by Jeremiah, historically they were attributed to the prophet, a collection of poetic witness to the destruction of Jerusalem during the siege by Babylon in 587 B.C.E. In 1:1-6, the author personifies Jerusalem as a woman, a war widow who has lost everything and has been taken captive by all her enemies. The city is utterly destroyed, and all the people taken into exile after suffering the siege. Verse 5 states that God has caused this because the leaders of Jerusalem did not follow God’s ways and abandoned the people.
Lamentations 3:19-26 contain the only words of hope in Lamentations. All the author can remember is their suffering and homelessness, their hopeless despair. They can’t let go of the memories, the terrible trauma. Yet they still trust in God’s faithfulness, and because God’s steadfast love never ceases, they have hope. God’s mercy is renewed every day. God is with those who wait, and God’s deliverance will come. They wait in hope for the salvation of God.
The alternative choice to Lamentations 3:19-26 is Psalm 137, a song of lamentation in Babylon, where the exiles mourn for their lost city of Zion. Their captors taunt the people, asking the exiles to sing a song of Zion, but how could they sing a song of their home in the land of their captors? How could they sing celebratory songs when they are mourning? They cannot forget their home, and the psalmist sings to not forget what happened, and to pray for vengeance. Psalm 137 is a song of raw emotion, and the captive Israelites do not hold back any of their thoughts including infanticide and revenge, for they have experienced such trauma and violence that they wish their enemies to experience it, too. To know what they have gone through: the horrors of war and exile.
The second selection of the Hebrew Scriptures focuses on the prophet Habakkuk, who lived around the time before the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem. Habakkuk argues with God in 1:1-4, because all the prophet experienced was violence. He couldn’t see any hope from God to deliver him or the people from evil. Justice was not possible because the law couldn’t be upheld. However, in 2:1, the prophet remained faithful to God, keeping their position at the fortress, watching and waiting for God to respond in 2:2-4. God told the prophet to write a vision, so simple that a runner could read it, because there was still a vision for their time. Whether it was a vision of hope, or a vision of doom, is unknown, but God would answer if the people waited for it. For the righteous live by their faith and are justified, unlike the proud who live for themselves.
Psalm 37:1-9 is a song reminding the listener to trust in God. Do not be afraid of evil, because God is steadfast. Commit yourself to God and God will act. Be still and wait patiently. Do not participate in evil or revenge, because these are not God’s ways. Instead, know that God will not allow the wicked to prevail but will see you through.
The Epistle reading continues its series through 1-2 Timothy in the introduction to 2 Timothy. Paul gives thanks for Timothy and is reminded of Timothy’s sincere faith. Paul is inspired by Timothy and wants to assure him that God is with him. Though Paul is in prison, he has no regrets or shame in sharing the Gospel, and he wants Timothy to hold on to what he has been taught, the faith and love in Christ Jesus. The last three verses of chapter one, not included here, share how some other churches and believers have turned against Paul, but some are still faithful to God and supporting Paul while in prison in Rome. Paul writes to encourage Timothy to keep living out the faith handed down from his mother and grandmother, to endure in the faith.
Jesus warned the disciples to be careful of the things that led people into temptation, to warn those around them who might sin and to forgive those who change in the verses prior to Luke 17:5-10. Here, the disciple’s response to Jesus is, “Increase our faith!” Jesus responds that if they had any bit of faith, they could tell a mulberry tree to go plant itself in the ocean and it would obey them. Jesus then uses an example that is hard for us to understand today. In Jesus’ time, slave ownership was part of society and slaves were expected to work all day and not eat until everything was taken care of, and the household manager was in bed. The household manager would not invite a slave to eat dinner after working in the field, nor would they thank slaves for doing their work. Jesus uses this example to show the disciples they ought to simply be living out their faith because that’s what they are to do. It’s not a great example for us today, but what Jesus seems to be saying is that we can’t expect anything in return, not to expect God to grant us anything special in our faithfulness. It’s who we are already supposed to be.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on God rescuing the Israelites at the Red Sea in Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, and 21-29. When the Israelites fled Egypt, Pharaoh chased after them with all his chariots and army. The Israelites were afraid, crying out to Moses that it might have been better to stay in Egypt than to die there in the desert (they were already complaining before the even crossed the Red Sea!). Moses told them to not be afraid, because God would fight for them and rescue them. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and it turned to dry ground and the Israelites crossed. Moses then stretched out his hand once the people were across and Pharaoh’s entire army was on the dry ground, and the waters overtook them. The Israelites, however, crossed safely with a wall of water on either side, never touching them.
The supplementary verses are from Matthew 2:13-15, when Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt after being warned in a dream that Herod wanted to kill the child. According to Matthew, this was to fulfill what God had spoken through the prophet, that out of Egypt God would call his son.
What is faithfulness? The challenging message of the Gospel lesson is that faithfulness is trusting that God is already with us and not asking for anything more, even when it is hard to stay from sin, hard to forgive others, hard to do the right thing. We are simply to do it. Lamentations reminds us that it is hard to have faithfulness in the midst of trauma, but that the anchor when things are out of control is remembering that God’s mercy is with us and renews every morning. It’s okay at times to feel despair and hopelessness, but in our memories of sorrow we also remember God’s faithfulness. Habakkuk reminds us that there is always a vision for the appointed time, that God is with us, forging ahead. The Narrative Lectionary reminds us that fear is a powerful weapon and that it’s easy to give up, but God is with us, in the midst of the waters that might overwhelm us. God will see us through. God will always remain faithful to us even when we fail. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 reminds us “the saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”
For those celebrating World Communion Sunday, perhaps the passages might remind us of the refugees and immigrants among us who have escaped horrors many of us cannot imagine. In my own context, we have many churches made up of immigrants and refugees from Burma who have described fleeing from their own life, the murders by the military government, and the oppression of their people. They have shared stories of living in refugee camps in Malaysia. In their faithfulness, may we be in solidarity with all refugees and asylum seekers, celebrating at Christ’s table together that we are one.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 37:3-5, 7, 9)
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Live and grow in faithfulness.
Take delight in the Lord,
For God knows what your heart desires.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust in God, and God will act.
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently,
For those who wait will find hope in their God.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that it is hard for us to trust. It is difficult to wait. Some have waited for so long. Many have experienced violence and trauma that is unimaginable to endure. You call us to wait, but we call upon You to answer. You are our God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, and we call upon You to respond to our cries against injustice. We call upon You to comfort us in our despair. We call upon You to open our minds to listen to Your wisdom and our hearts to listen to Your children. We call upon You, O God, to forgive us where we have gone astray, where we have sinned against You and one another. Lead us into the paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake. May we know the overflowing cup of Your forgiveness and mercy all the days of our lives. May we dwell with You forever. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from Lamentations 3:21-26)
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
Wait for the Lord, and God will answer. God will renew your strength, forgive your sins, and send you into the world to share God’s love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Holy One, our hope and trust are in You. We quiet our soul so we might listen. We calm our mind so we might comprehend. We still our bodies so we might take notice. May we experience the holy in the here and now, where You dwell with us. May we know we are not alone in this journey of faith. Quiet our souls, our minds, our bodies, and break open our hearts to Your love, O God. Amen.
World Communion Sunday Prayer
At this table, O God, You sat with your friends, including the one who betrayed You, the one who denied You, the one who doubted You, the ones who argued over who was the greatest. All your friends fell away in fear, and all Your friends loved you dearly. We gather at this table, O God, with friends whose hearts we may not know, whose troubles and trauma we have not fathomed. We gather at this table, O God, with our siblings around the world on this World Communion Sunday, some of whom have experienced the harshness of betrayal by their government and neighbors, some of whom have been denied their basic human rights, and their stories for asylum cast into doubt. We gather with those who have been told they are less important than others because of citizenship or papers, because of the color of their skin or gender or sexual orientation.
We gather together as Your body, O Lord, and in its brokenness, You give of Yourself, broken for us. We gather together as Your church, O Lord, to celebrate the new covenant in Your blood. We seek forgiveness, O Christ, for where we have caused or held on to division instead of healing. We seek forgiveness for those we have denied a place for at the table, which is not ours, but Yours. Grant us Your mercy and steadfast love as we celebrate with You, remembering that You gave Yourself for all of us, that we might be forgiven of our sins, restored to You and have the gift of eternal life. For this is Your table, and we are made in Your image, and Your body and blood are given for all of us. We share in this meal to remember You and to remember each other. We will not forget the victims of genocide. We will not ignore the horrors of war. We will not dismiss the refugees and asylum seekers among us. We will listen. We will learn. We will seek forgiveness and resolution, and work to repair the brokenness in the world, together. For by Your brokenness, we are made whole. In Your precious, healing, holy name we pray. Amen.