Worship Resources for September 24, 2023—Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 16:2-15 and Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Jonah 3:10-4:11 and Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16
Narrative Lectionary: Jacob Wrestles God, Genesis 32: (9-13), 22-30 (Mark 14:32-36)
In the first selection of the Hebrew scriptures, we have followed the ancestors of our faith from one family to a whole people. Following their liberation from Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, they immediately began complaining against Moses and Aaron in Exodus 16:2-15. They complained of hunger and how they had their fill back in Egypt. God promised Moses that they would get more than their fill of bread, for God would rain down bread upon the people. God rained down manna in the morning and in the evening, God provided quail. Moses in turn went to the people and reminded them that though they complained, God had provided for them bread in the morning and meat in the evening—so what did they really have to complain about? But the people did not recognize the bread provided for them, as it was white and flaky, covering the ground. Moses informed them this was the manna God gave them.
Psalm 105 is a song praising God for all of God’s deeds for the people throughout their history. Verses 1-6 serve as a call to worship, calling the people into singing praise, glorifying God, and remembering God’s works as God’s people. Verses 37-45 contain the final stanza, remembering how God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt and out of their oppression. God provided quail, manna from heaven and water from the rock, remembering the promise God made with their ancestor Abraham. God brought the people through the wilderness and into the land promised them so they could worship and obey God.
The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures is Jonah 3:10-4:11. Jonah, the most successful prophet in all the Hebrew scriptures, is upset that God changed their mind and did not destroy Nineveh, because the people of Nineveh repented and turned back to God. Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh to begin with, and now that God brought him all the way here, God isn’t even going to destroy the people for their disobedience. God is full of mercy and love, and Jonah is so upset about it that he’d rather die. God questions Jonah as to whether he has a right to be angry. God then causes a bush to grow and shade Jonah from the heat, but also appoints a worm to attack the bush so it died. Jonah again wanted to die because of the heat, and because the bush died. The final words of this story are from God: God challenges Jonah’s right to be angry over the bush as a metaphor for being angry at what happened in Nineveh. God’s concern is for creation and for all the people; Jonah’s inconvenience at being called to Nineveh is like his inconvenience with the bush dying. Jonah has no control over those things. Jonah, however, can control his own actions and reactions. Jonah is feeling his big feelings and missing the whole picture, of an entire community, including all the animals, saved from destruction.
Psalm 145:1-8 is the first part of an alphabetic acrostic poem in Hebrew, in which each verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In these first eight verses, the psalmist blesses and praises God, declaring God’s greatness from generation to generation, and concludes this section with an ancient confession in verse 8, repeated in Jonah 4 and from Exodus 34:6: the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Epistle readings begin a four-week series in Philippians with 1:21-30. Paul begins this section of his letter with an acknowledgement that he lives for Christ, but that in death he will gain the resurrection. He desires to be with Christ in resurrection, but he knows that it is necessary for him to live now and continue to witness, especially to the church in Philippi. Paul encourages this church, though he is in prison, to continue to live their lives in a manner worthy of Christ. He knows their struggles and sufferings living in the Roman Empire as believers in Christ.
Matthew 20:1-16 contains a parable of Jesus about a landowner who went out and hired workers to work in his vineyard throughout the day. At the end of the day, he paid those who only worked one hour just as much as those who had worked all day. Parables always have layers. On the surface, the lesson is that life is not fair, and those who come to believe late in life are as worthy as those who have believed their whole life. The justice concern is that all receive a daily wage to meet their daily needs. One of the workers who worked all day complains that those who only worked one hour were made equal. The landowner in turn reminds the worker that he is allowed to do what he wants with what belongs to him, and questions if the worker is jealous of his generosity. Perhaps a deeper level of the parable is to explore what it means to be generous, or what it means to understand there is enough for everyone. The systems of the world work to pit workers against each other, but God shows us there is enough for everyone.
The Narrative Lectionary turns to the story of Jacob wrestling God in Genesis 32: (9-13), 22-30. Jacob, his wives and their handmaidens, his children and all the household have left Laban, but on their way, he learns that his brother Esau is waiting to meet him. The story of Jacob is told in layers: (A) Jacob had tricked and deceived Esau out of his birthright and blessing and ran away to Laban. (B) On his way to Laban, he had a vision of angels ascending and descending on a ladder. (A) Laban had tricked and deceived Jacob into marrying Leah before Rachel. (C) Laban was reckoned with Jacob upon his eventual departure and they made an agreement with each other. (B) While on his way to Esau, Jacob prays for God to deliver him from his brother Esau, and then encountered a stranger at night with whom he wrestled until daybreak. Jacob overpowered this messenger from God, though the messenger had knocked Jacob’s hip out of joint. The angel blesses Jacob and tells him that his name will be Israel. (C) Following this passage, Jacob and Esau will meet and Esau will forgive Jacob. Though this passage focuses solely on the encounter with the angel and the name given to Jacob, it’s important to see the story layers of deception, encounters with God, and reckoning/forgiveness. It is the encounters with God that transform and change our lives, but also the lives of others.
Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane in the supplemental verses of Mark 14:32-36. Right before Judas shows up on the night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed in the garden for God’s will to be done. The Narrative Lectionary parallels this with Jacob’s prayer before his encounter with Esau, that God’s will be done.
Most of us would agree that life is not fair. However, some of us might understand that our perception is not always accurate. Jonah reminds us in a funny story that God’s ways are not our ways, and that sometimes our concerns are quite petty compared to the concerns of the world around us. The people of Israel, having escaped their oppression, turn around and complain to Moses and Aaron in the next moment, because they are afraid. They don’t know how to find food in the wilderness, and the food they do find is different than the food they are used to. This doesn’t seem like freedom. It’s easier to look back at what they knew and even easier to minimize what had happened to them now that they were away from it. The Exodus story reminds us that oppression affects the generations that follow. For the workers in the vineyard that worked all day, it didn’t seem fair that those who worked only one hour received the same wage, even though it wasn’t the worker’s fault that they hadn’t found a job before then. It’s much easier to look at what we’ve lost, or what we don’t have, then to see all that God has provided in the world. This doesn’t mean we necessarily have enough. Many of us don’t, and far too often we minimize the hardships many of us have faced. We may struggle in different ways with student and medical debt, childcare costs, lack of retirement, cost of living, etc. The lessons of scripture remind us that we often focus on the wrong thing—what our neighbors have, instead of what those in power have. We focus on what isn’t fair to us, instead of the injustice that affects all of us.
Call to Worship (Psalm 105:1-5)
O give thanks to the LORD, call on God’s name,
Make known God’s deeds among the peoples.
Sing to God, sing praises to God;
Tell of all God’s wonderful works.
Glory in God’s holy name;
Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Seek the LORD and God’s strength;
Seek God’s presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works God has done,
God’s miracles, and the judgments God uttered.
Give thanks to God as we enter this time of worship,
Remembering all God has done for us.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of justice and mercy, we confess that it is easier for us to argue with one another than to address systemic injustice. It is easier for us to be jealous and angry about unfairness we experience than to be concerned that our neighbors have their needs met. Forgive us for our short-sightedness. Call us into the work of justice with compassion, to love our neighbors and to seek justice for those around us. We remember that when we care for the needs of others, our own needs will be met. When we speak against injustice for others, we work for justice for ourselves. Remind us that we are interconnected with one another, that none of us are truly alone. Call us into Your beloved community to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with You. Amen.
God’s steadfast love endures forever. God is full of compassion and mercy for all of us, even all of creation. God desires repentance and restoration, not judgment and punishment. Don’t believe the hype of a judgmental, wrathful God. Instead, believe in the power of an all-loving, merciful and forgiving God who desires justice, and know that mercy and forgiveness are gifts to you when you work for justice and restoration in the world. Go and share the good news. Amen.
God of Creation, we give You thanks for all the biodiversity You have woven upon our earth. You have created us to be part of an interdependent web of life. We have forgotten this, O God, far too often. We misuse and overuse our earth and do not remember that we share this planet, not only with seven billion other children of God, but billions of species You made with intention to share the air and water and food You gave all of us. Call us into accountability and to do our part to make changes that benefit Your creation, personally as well as collectively. Guide us in our civic duty to hold our elected officials accountable, for You gave us only one planet to live on and we were called to be good stewards. Remind us of this sacred charge and send us to live into Your justice for creation. Amen.