Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 and Psalm 79:1-9; Amos 8:4-7 and Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13
Narrative Lectionary: Call of Abraham, Genesis 12:1-9 (Matthew 28:19-20)
The first selection of the Hebrew Scriptures, following the rise of the prophets, turns solely to Jeremiah for several weeks. In 8:18-9:1, God speaks through the prophet, grieving for the people of Jerusalem. God mourns because the people cry out wondering where God is, and God is right there, but they have turned to idols. The people expect God to still be there though they have rejected God and do not notice God is with them. God despairs along with the people for the consequences of their actions. If God were made of water, God’s tears would never stop flowing.
Psalm 79:1-9 is a song of lament, for the temple has been ransacked by other nations, the holy city destroyed. The people cry out to God because they have been humiliated and have witnessed the desecration of God’s holy temple. The psalmist cries out on behalf of the people, wondering why God’s anger is on them and not on the other nations. The psalmist pleads with God to have compassion for God’s people and to not hold them accountable for the sins of their ancestors, but to deliver them now, as they call upon God’s name.
The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures turns to Amos 8:4-7. The prophet warns the people in the northern kingdom of Israel that they have abandoned God by turning to their own greed. They only observe the Sabbath and festivals because the businesses are closed then. They want to be able to swindle the poor and oppressed among them for their own gain and God is furious, for God knows what they have done and will not forget.
Psalm 113 is a song of praise to God, who is above all of creation and all nations. God lifts up the poor and needy from the trash and gives them seats at the table with kings and rulers of all nations, but especially of God’s own people. Those who have been denied respect and honor among their own people, such as women struggling with infertility, will be full of joy and at home with God.
The Epistle reading continues a series in 1 and 2 Timothy with 1 Timothy 2:1-7. Paul instructs Timothy and the church in Ephesus on the importance of prayer, urging prayer for everyone, including kings and rulers. For a church that was under oppression from the Roman Empire, Paul is striving for peace so they can survive, and praying for leaders is a way of both praying for their hearts to change and praying the leaders do not interfere in the church. God is God of all, and Christ is the mediator, not worldly rulers. Paul sees himself as called to this mission to the Gentiles and calls upon the people in Ephesus to pray for everyone, regardless of their background.
The Gospel lesson of Luke 16:1-13 contains a parable about using worldly wealth to make heavenly gains, and it is a strange parable with questionable morals. The NRSV translates this as “dishonest wealth,” but the Common English Bible translates it as “worldly wealth.” In this parable, a rich man calls forth his manager because he’s heard the manager is squandering his property, and he demands a report of his accounting. The manager doesn’t know what to do, and since he knows he will be sacked, he reduces the debts of everyone who owes the rich man money and settles all the accounts. The rich man had to commend him because even if he fired the manager, the manager now has friends to go to, favors that are owed to him. Jesus uses this parable to teach the disciples that even dishonest people know how to survive in this world, and that wealth is a tool of survival, not the purpose. If you serve God, you can’t serve wealth. Instead, all the possessions of this world must be used to work for the reign of God, not for serving ourselves. We need to be clever, eyes open to the shrewdness of dishonest people, but stay true to our values and our faithfulness to God.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the promises of God this season, turning to the call of Abraham in Genesis 12:1-9. God spoke to Abram, the son of Terah, who had traveled all the way to Haran in Canaan after leaving Ur. At Haran, God called Abram and Sarai to leave Haran for a new land that God promised to show them. God promised a great nation would come forth from them, and they would be a blessing. Lot, Abram’s nephew, also went with them. Abram built altars along the way, taking notice of God’s presence with them at sacred spaces such as the Oak of Moreh and the land of Bethel, and they worshiped God as they traveled.
The supplementary passage is Matthew 28:19-20, the Great Commission of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that Christ is with them until the end of the age.
God laments when we turn from God’s ways to the ways of the world, pursuing wealth and possessions for our own gain to consume more. God calls those with wealth and privilege instead to be shrewd in the ways of this world and to not forget the oppressed, those who live in poverty, those who are marginalized. All of us are called to be subversive in the midst of the empire’s ways that others take for granted. We are called to be subversive in building up the beloved community of God. We must always keep our vision on God and living into God’s ways and not the ways of this world that we have created, the way of empire that demands more wealth and power to consume more and take from those in need. The way of God is to love one another, pray for one another, lift up one another, and seek to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.
Call to Worship (Psalm 113:1-4)
Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the LORD;
Praise the name of the LORD.
Blessed be the name of our God.
From this time on and forevermore,
From the rising of the sun to its setting.
The name of our God is to be praised.
The LORD is high above all nations,
And God’s glory above the heavens.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Compassion, we know that we have withheld our own compassion toward others. We have clung to the myths of pulling oneself up by their bootstraps and hard work as a way to avoid those who live in poverty among us. We have failed to encourage empathy and have refused to listen to the voices that challenge us in our privilege and power. Call us to repent, O God. Open our hearts to be full of Your love that breaks us open to compassion. Open our minds to listen to the pain of others instead of making assumptions about their lives. Call us into the active work of repentance and reparation, so we might be forgiven, and we may forgive others. Strong Redeemer, Mighty Healer, we pray all this in Your name. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from Exodus 34:6-7a)
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” God hears our pleas and answers them with steadfast love and mercy, our promise of repentance with assurance of forgiveness. May God guide us into the ways of reparation and restoration, to forgive one another as we are forgiven, and go forth sharing the Gospel with the grace of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Holy Spirit, as we approach the equinox, we give thanks to You who bless us in all seasons, summer and winter and springtime and harvest. We thank You for this beautiful earth and we pray for the wisdom to learn how to care for this planet better. Help us to raise our voices and advocate for You and Your creation. Guide us in ways of caring and tilling, so that our lives bear fruit as does the earth in all seasons. Lead us away from harmful practices that reduce the earth to consumption and our lives into productivity machines, and instead, cultivate in us a rhythm of balance, to heed the turning of the earth and the revolution around the sun. May we instill a revolution in our hearts, to turn back to You, to love one another, and to care for this earth. Amen.