Preaching Thoughts- July 18, 2021

Here are some stewardship, discipleship, mission, and innovation thoughts about the appointed readings for the Revised Common and Narrative Lectionaries for Sunday July 18, 2021.

Sunday July 18, 2021: Revised Common Lectionary- The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)– Lectionary 16
First Lesson: Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Second Lesson: Ephesians 2:11-22
Gospel of Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Each year we have a good shepherd Sunday in the season of Easter. But during the summer months this theme often returns, and he we are yet again. With words of woe, comfort, promise, healing, and restoration. All of these messages pointing to God’s promises of presence, life, love, and relationship. Let’s take these stories in order. Like last week though, for the second lesson from Ephesians, please see the thoughts on the narrative lectionary further below, as for the second straight week the narrative lectionary focuses in on what is also the second lesson in the revised common lectionary for this particular week.

The first lesson comes from the prophet Jeremiah. Where we read words of promise about what God will do, but also words of woe to those who lead astray, falsely, or who lead God’s people away from the goodness of God. God will restore and find the lost. There will be no more fear. Jeremiah explains, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness‘” (Jeremiah 23:1-6, NRSV).

First, there is a warning for leaders in this story. If you betray or lead astray, woe to you. For we do God’s work, not our own. If we forget that and turn toward ourselves, woe to us indeed. But this is also a warning to all baptized Children of God. We each have vocations and purpose and callings as disciples. We each have responsibility that comes with that. If we neglect those responsibilities, and if we do not follow, woe to us. But thankfully its not all about us.

God’s grace will restore us, and God’s self will gather the remnant of God’s flock. This gathering will be one of abundance that multiplies God’s purposes fruitfully. New leaders and shepherds of the faith will be called and raised up. In Nebraska that may mean new and more deacons, pastors, and parish ministry associates. But also more disciples will be called to grow deeper, to lean into their faith, and walk with their communities. Dwelling and trusting in God’s promises for God’s own. Doing some of God’s work here and now of justice and righteousness. Embodying God’s purpose of raising up the lowly, of finding the lost, of reconciling differences, and restoring relationships and all of creation. All of this is work that is part of God’s on-going work of love and kingdom building that continues around us, with us, through us, and in us. But most importantly it’s work that God does for us- so that we might all know the truth and depth of God’s abundant and abiding love, and through grace, be able to respond with gratitude and joy for all that God has done, continues to do, and will do, for us.

Psalm 23 needs no introduction. I am not even sure what more there is to say, given how often it shows up in the lectionary and on this blog. But again, we hear these famous words this week from the psalmist. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—  they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” (Psalm 23, NRSV).

The psalmist reminds us of the relationship we have with God, because God in Christ is our good shepherd. We are reminded of the stewardship truth, that in God, we are enough. We have enough and are enough for what God has called us- because we are God’s. All that we have and all that we are, is God’s. Entrusted to our care so that we might live with meaning and purpose. That we might live abundantly in God’s love. And that we might also live as God’s own- embodying and sharing God’s abundance with our neighbors and the larger world around us who might be in need. When life is hard or easy, God walks with us. God has us, knows us, and holds us. And through these promises, entrusting, and presence, our cup literally overflows with the love and abundance of God. It’s a beautiful reminder and picture about our lives as stewards and disciples. Lives made possibly only because of what God does, has done, and will do, for us. And a beautiful reminder, that when put in proper order, our lives are lived out of deep and joyful and grateful response to God.

The second lesson from Ephesians 2 is a good reminder about our baptized identities as Children of God, and what it means to be part of God’s fold. But as mentioned above, it’s also the focus text for the narrative lectionary this week. So for more thoughts on it, please see that below in this blog post.

Finally, the gospel lesson picks up right where we left off last week. Right after the story of John the Baptist’s beheading, and Jesus and the disciples receiving word about this and also continuing to lean into the mission and ministry they are now all a part of. Understandably, they try and take some sabbath time to recharge. That might work for a bit, but the news travels fast. People come. They come to taste and see. They come to touch and be healed. They come to hear, learn, and to witness. Discipleship is happening. And disciples are growing and being formed.

The story picks up then with Mark 6:30. We read, “The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:30-34, NRSV).

A month ago we visited sister/auntie Tamara at her internship congregation in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. I’m not sure exactly what this picture has to do with this week’s stories- but maybe it’s a good example of the different vocations and generations that discipleship embodies, and of the apostles too.

Time of reflection, breathing, and sabbath are all good. They are in fact necessary for all people to take. So Jesus and the disciples doing this here is not just helpful for them, it’s a good reminder for all of us in our own ministry, vocations, and leadership. Especially true I suspect after the last year and a half of pandemic and social upheaval and lack of travel and for many, a lack of getting away and vacation time taken. Admittedly, this time away can be hard to take. For Jesus and the disciples, people do find them. Word spreads. So ultimately, after a bit of calm, it’s back to the work of God’s mission be made real. Jesus is back to teaching, healing, and sharing God’s love to the crowds that follow. But in the quiet time with the disciples, I imagine there was time for them to just be, but also time for them to take a step back and make sense of their own experiences and God sightings. I also suspect there might well have been some time to reflect on the events that had transpired ultimately with the death of John the Baptist and how that news most likely impacted them in some way.

But as the crowds come, they will need to be fed. That’s ultimately the story we know as the feeding of the 5000+. The lectionary however, skips Mark’s version of that story this week and instead shares the Gospel of John’s version of that story next week. And skipping over also the events of Jesus walking on water, the story moves to when Jesus and the disciples had crossed over the sea and arrived at Gennesaret.

We read, “When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized himand rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed” (Mark 6:53-56, NRSV).

God’s work is being done. The Good News of the gospel is spreading, and people are beginning to notice. Word is traveling. And people are coming to see for themselves. To hear the Word of God proclaimed. To be fed by the Bread of Life. To be healed of their afflictions through faith- even in such a small way as in reaching out for the fringes of a cloak. The people travel to come and see that the Lord is good. This is all God’s work, for God’s beloved. It’s work we are entrusted with pointing to, proclaiming about, and joining in and co-creating with in some small ways at least through our own vocations. But most of all, it’s God’s work for us that we could never earn nor deserve. Pure gift and grace. Which moved by it, we can’t help but want to give thanks and praise, and then do what we can to join with God and share that good news and gift and promise with others.

In whatever ways you witness the Good Shepherd, the Healing Savior, or God among us this week, may you have eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to touch, to be able to taste that the Lord is good, and to use your voice to share about all that God has done, continues to do, and will do for you and your neighbors.

Sunday July 18, 2021: The Narrative Lectionary- The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Narrative Year 3- Summer Series…)
Narrative Theme: Ephesians- Week 2 of 4
Focus Passage: Ephesians 2:11-22
Gospel Verse: Matthew 10:28-31

We move to Ephesians 2 this week in our four week journey through Ephesians in July with the Narrative Lectionary. Like last week, we dig into the promise of relationship with God and all people that we know most clearly through the work of baptism. But this week we hear more about peace and also God’s reconciling work. Let’s take the passage in two parts.

Paul writes, “So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13, NRSV).

Paul is grounding our identity, the people of Ephesus’ identity and that of all believers, in Christ. For it is through Jesus that we have all been made one in Christ. It’s through Jesus, that we are all claimed as Children of God and heirs of the covenant and promise with God. And put another way, through Christ we are all in relationship with God and with one another. That relationship is one of presence, support, mutuality, compassion, concern, care, and especially love. But it is also one of reconciliation and peace.

Paul continues to unpack this writing about Jesus, “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:14-22, NRSV).

I don’t know about you, but these words are so timely to me. With division upon division in society seeming to grow, to hear again about the unity that we share in Jesus Christ is a gift. To hear also about the peace that Christ provides which has “broken down the diving fall, that is, the hostility between us,” and which I hope Jesus continues to do, provides great hope. Because in this age of divisiveness we need more reconciliation and common good and common ground work than ever. For we believe as God’s own, that we are indeed made one and reconciled through the work of the cross. And through this work, not only are we reconciled, but we are made siblings in Christ, members of the same family. Not strangers or aliens anymore. Paul’s words are so timely about community and togetherness. Even when it seems hard to build community today, we know that in God it can happen and it does happen. That’s good news and a message of hope that I think will preach quite well today. Don’t you?

And if you need some extra encouragement, the gospel of Matthew reminds us to “not be afraid,” because God values us and knows even the number of hairs on our head. We are known, we are seen, we are held, because we are loved and claimed as a Child of God. So as the gospel writer reminds, please hear again, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31, NRSV).

Whatever story or stories call your attention this week, may God’s love and promises be made known to you and through you. And may God’s love and peace hold you and sustain you in your work, life, ministry, and vocation this day and always. Amen. -TS

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