Worship Resources for September 5th, 2021—Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Sacraments—Mutual Consolation of the Saints, Matthew 18:15-20, or Series on Revelation, 21:1-6, 22:1-5 (John 16:20-22)

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures has turned to Wisdom literature, in the second half of this season after Pentecost. This selection from Proverbs contains sayings about injustice and poverty. God has made us all, and yet, God hears the cries of the poor and pleads their case. God calls for justice and warns those who seek their own gain. Instead, the proverbs teach that those who are generous, especially to those in need, are blessed.

Psalm 125 is a song of praise for God. Those who put their trust in God are on a firm foundation, safe with God in the way Jerusalem is safe because of the mountains that surround the city. The psalmist calls out to God to “do good to the people who are good.” To do the right thing for those who live in righteousness, and lead those in wickedness away so they cannot cause harm.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures prophesies God’s restorative works in Isaiah 35:4-7a. The prophet speaks of God’s return to a people who have suffered and are afraid. God will restore what has been taken, what has been broken. The prophet uses the images of those disabled, the blind having their sight restored, the lame leaping for joy, etc. in a way that we must be cautious of repeating, for our understanding of disability has changed greatly since the time this was written. Instead, looking to the images of streams in the desert, the burning sand becoming a pool—the overall theme is about restoring, returning to its intended state. Teachers and preachers would do well to focus on the natural landscape themes and think of restoration as ramps and walkways, accessibility for those whose access has been denied. This is what it means to restore to the reign of God.

Psalm 146 is a song of praise to God who rules over all and executes justice. The psalmist reminds the people not to put their trust in worldly rulers. They will not last, and they will not help all the people. God is the one who reigns eternally, who made heaven and earth and all of creation. God knows the oppressed and works for their release from prison and systems of oppression. God upholds the marginalized and will reign forever.

The Epistle readings continue in the letter of James with chapter 2. The writer chastises the favoritism he has seen play out in the early church, where people still seek out the wealthy rather than helping the poor in need among them. God sees through their actions—they cannot hide. The rich are the ones who oppress them, and yet the people still work to please the wealthy instead of looking to the ones most in need. To love one’s neighbor as one’s self is the hallmark of faith in James’ view, and faith without works is dead.

Jesus encounters two people in need in Mark 7:24-37. Jesus entered a house in the region of Tyre and didn’t want anyone to know he was there, but a Syrophoenician woman heard that Jesus was there and came to find him, to beg him to cast the demon out of her daughter. Jesus was rather harsh with her, telling her it wasn’t fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. Basically telling her she wasn’t worthy. But she insisted that even the dogs get the crumbs from the table. Jesus is confronted by her faith and tells her the demon has left her daughter. From there, Jesus traveled to the Decapolis, and a deaf man who had a speech impediment was brought to him. The people who brought him begged Jesus to lay his hands on him, so he took him to a private place, touched his ears, and spat and touched his tongue. The scripture says that Jesus sighed, looked to heaven, and said, “Be opened.” The man immediately was able to hear and speak. Jesus was challenged by the foreign woman to see her humanity in a moment when he thought her unworthy—and he changed his mind. Jesus was sent not only to the people of Israel, but to all people, to bring healing and restoration, as he did for the man who struggled with speech and hearing—restoring him in a manner that in his day would allow him to participate fully in society.

The Narrative Lectionary has two series choices for the remainder of the summer—a series on Sacraments, and a series on Revelation. I am using the same resources I did four years ago, from September 3rd, 2017, in the archives, for the series on Revelation. Because the Narrative Lectionary has added a fifth week for this series this year, the resources for this week’s lesson on Sacraments is new.

Sacramental language is not something I am familiar with in my tradition as a Baptist (we use the term Ordinances instead and have only two: The Lord’s Supper and Baptism). This series on Sacraments, ending with Mutual Consolation of the Saints, focuses on Matthew 18:15-20, in how we ought to live together as faithful people. When there is a question of wrongdoing, the person wronged is to address it directly at first if possible. If that doesn’t work, they are to follow what Deuteronomy 19:15 teaches, to take two or three witnesses for support and to help settle the matter. However, if the offender still will not accept responsibility, it becomes a communal manner. The words of Jesus are difficult to understand: to treat one as a gentile and tax collector would, in their culture and time, mean to have nothing to do with them. However, Jesus has taught and lived by example in the exact opposite way, to continue to love and accept others. Instead of being a prescriptive how-to action plan when there is conflict, it appears Jesus is calling the community to use its best tools and resources toward healing and restoration. At times, that may call for separating from those who are abusive and holding boundaries. At other times, it may call for more understanding and communal care. Jesus is with us as we struggle in how to be the community of Jesus here on earth.

The second Narrative Lectionary series completes Revelation with chapters 21 and 22, the vision of the new heaven and the new earth. There is no more mourning or grief, for the Lamb has made all things new. The new city has the river of life flowing from the throne, and there is no more death, no more night, and those that live will live in light forever. There is healing of the nations. There is hope. There is peace.

Jesus compares his death and resurrection with childbirth in John 16:20-22. There is pain, and there will be grief, but there will be great rejoicing in the resurrection. The disciples will grieve, but then they will rejoice, if they remember that this is only temporary. Jesus is fond of the image of labor and birth (see John 3) as symbolic of what we go through in death to eternal life.

We know what we have been taught through Scripture and the traditions passed down to us; however, living out our faith is much more difficult. Even Jesus, at times, struggled with what he believed he was supposed to do, and the needs of the people before him. Throughout the scriptures, God shows us that the poor, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner—the people who are often marginalized, forgotten about, and excluded—are the ones God is concerned for. As a community of faith, we are challenged to look for those who are most in need, and they are often the ones who cannot give in return. Instead, we often act like the people James wrote about—turning to please the wealthy and those in power—the very ones who may oppress us. The very ones who benefit from the systems and structures of power and wealth in this world. Too often churches get caught up in trying to grow by numbers of people and numbers of dollars in the bank, instead of rejecting worldly measures of success and looking to the people most in need of a lived-out Gospel. We are called to live out our faith in the ways that God has shown us throughout the centuries. Otherwise, it’s as James said—our faith, our church, doesn’t mean anything.

Call to Worship (Psalm 146:1-2, 5-6)
Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD, O my soul!
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the LORD their God,
Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Eternal Life, we confess that we are short-sighted. We seek the gains that we can experience and know. We look for signs that prove to us right now an assurance of our future. We fail to view how You are at work in the world around us, through all times and seasons. We seek the short-term goals and pleasures that ease our fears, instead of trusting You and living into Your ways of deep empathy, compassion, and care for our earth and for one another. Forgive us for our selfishness. Help us to turn to Your ways, to put our trust in You, to know that though we may not experience the fulfillment of Your justice and reign while we breathe, it will come. We live for it now, and know that death does not have the final word, especially in the pursuit of justice and righteousness. For now, hold us to the path of mercy, love, and justice. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
When we are consistent, when we do not let up in our pursuit of justice, when we put our trust in God, we will find our way. God’s assurance comes through the love, support, and encouragement of one another, so be encouragers. Show mercy and practice loving-kindness, so that others may also learn by experiencing. For this is how we live into God’s reign on earth. Go and share the good news of God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy. Amen.

Prayer
God of Peace, the world is fractured and brittle around us. What we once assumed was permanent has become temporary. The temporary has stretched much longer than anticipated. We live with so many unknowns, so many tragic circumstances in the world. Bring peace to us. Not a peace that is passive, that numbs us to the pain of the world, but a peace that is the quiet assurance You are still at work in our world and in our lives. Bring peace to us in the form of help and aid when we struggle with mental health. Bring peace to us when we are feeling lonely and detached, by helping us to learn new ways of being community. Bring peace to us when all we can view before us is destruction and despair, in that there are still those in the world who love, who practice and pursue justice, and they need us, and we need them. Prince of Peace, grant us peace in our hearts. Amen.

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