Preaching Thoughts- October 3, 2021

Enjoy these reflections about this week’s appointed stories from the revised common and narrative lectionaries, with potential insights about discipleship, mission, innovation, and stewardship.

Sunday October 3, 2021: Revised Common Lectionary- The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)– Lectionary 27
First Lesson: Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Second Lesson: Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
Gospel of Mark 10:2-16

This week’s stories are good reminders about who God is, and who we are as God’s people. They are also good illustrations particularly for stewardship and how we are entrusted with gifts and responsibilities by God- and even invited into some of God’s work as co-creators with God. Let’s take them in order and see what stands out this week.

Our first lesson comes from Genesis 2, where we read part of the second creation story and about how God creates woman, and calls us into and creates us for relationships- relationship with God and with one another. We read beginning with verse 18, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:18-24, NRSV).

God creates a partner, recognizing that relationships matter and are important. So at the very beginning of creation even, we are created for and into relationships. That sense of relationship is something to steward and care for- to grow even. All relationships take effort and intentionality, just as crops and plants and all living things need to be cared for and nurtured so that they can grow and be healthy. This observation makes a nice coupling with the responsibility that God entrusts and invites the man into in verses 19-20. God calls the human to be a co-creator with God, as God invites the human to name some of God’s creation and creatures. From this point on, as God is in relationship with God’s beloved, God will entrust responsibility to God’s people from time to time, and invite participation in some of God’s on-going work in the world. It’s a beautiful thing, and a good reminder about our lives now as disciples and stewards of God’s love. It’s also a good illustration of how we are all invited to be part of God’s on-going work as part of God’s mission.

That brings us to this week’s psalm, Psalm 8. The psalmist proclaims, “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1-9, NRSV).

Psalm 8 is one of praise as we hear the familiar words, “how majestic is your name in all the earth,” but we are also reminded of God’s creative and redeeming work. This is a work that God does. This is also a work that God invites us into as God’s people to be co-creators with God in, at least to a small degree as we are entrusted with the responsibility to care for creation (as humanity has been given dominion over creation). The psalmist wonders in verse 4, perhaps rhetorically, “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” Humans are special. God takes special notice, and has relationship with them. This is an important note.

More so, the psalmist recognizes in verse 6, that God has “given them dominion over the works of your hands,” and has “put all things under their feet.” God is actively entrusting us with responsibility, and the work of caring for all of God’s creation. This is a stewardship truth, especially as we remember with the psalmist (as in Psalm 24:1) that “the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it.” So God actively entrusts what is God’s, to us. Because God takes special notice of God’s beloved, and loves us. God wants humanity to be in relationship with God and with one another. God wants humans to live meaningful and abundant lives. This comes through stewarding what God entrusts. But that also comes with responsibility for all of God’s people, so that all might be able to live and enjoy that abundance. As humanity we always seem come up short at in this- at making sure we aren’t hoarding what God entrusts and provides, and instead sharing so all have enough. Thank goodness God is a God of mercy and grace, who will not turn God’s back on God’s own.

Woodlake Lutheran in Richfield, MN created this cross covered in pictures of the “living saints” who are part of its particular faith community’s body and congregation back in 2014. I often think of this when thinking of Hebrews 1, because it was this church where I really fell in love with Matins and which sang and used the Matins service each week in its little chapel space off to the side of its sanctuary. What a beautiful example of God’s on-going story that we are all a part of.

This story of life-giving and entrusting is also unpacked and repeated in the second lesson from Hebrews. It comes in two parts, Hebrews 1:1-4, and Hebrews 2:5-12. The book of Hebrews begins, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:1-4, NRSV).

These four verses are among my favorites in all of scripture. They didn’t used to be. But for about a year I was serving a congregation in the Twin Cities which gathered as part of its worship life for a mid-week Matins service every Wednesday morning. Matins, or morning prayer, uses the language of this passage as a way to remember God’s creative and saving work for all of God’s beloved. It’s God’s work, and only God’s work that makes the rest possible. The work of life-giving love we know through Christ. It’s also such a beautiful encapsulation of the relationship of God’s story, a story we are all entrusted with but also one we are all a part of through our ancestors. In that way then, we are all part of God’s on-going story, today.

The second portion of the lesson from Hebrews moves us to Hebrew 2:5-12. Beginning with verse 5, we read, “Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere, ‘What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet.’ Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, ‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you’” (Hebrews 2:5-12, NRSV).

The writer in Hebrews continues to highlight God in Christ’s work for you and for me. It’s work that God does, as pure gift and grace. It’s saving work, that we as stewards can only respond to with joy and gratitude. And with a desire to as in the book of Genesis in our first lesson, join in God’s work in some way (whether it be by naming creatures, caring for the earth, and/or caring for our neighbors). Rightfully, for all of this saving work and all of this creative work, we give God thanks and praise as the reading ends with the words, “I will praise you.”

This week’s gospel story in Mark 10, is a tough text to be sure. It’s about relationships, divorce, and the challenges of that. Wisely many a preacher might avoid preaching on this text. But, it does provide a good opportunity to preach, in conjunction with the other lessons, on the importance of caring for relationships. Relationships between individual and God, between people, and even with children. All of whom are God’s beloved. All of whom are created in God’s own image. Another challenge that comes particularly with this pericope is in Genesis 2 and Mark 10 and the language of gender. These are texts that are often pointed to as the core of gender identity in God’s eyes, yet we know that there is greater diversity than this. If I were preaching, I would approach this with care and ere on the side of welcome and inclusion recognizing that all people are God’s children. That all relationships between two people are sacred and matter. And that marriage, between consenting adults is not limited to just that of a male and female. Also, we recognize as people that there is sin in the world, and sometimes relationships do break. That’s a hard truth that impacts everyone in some way. If this week is an opportunity to name our brokenness and give space to grieve but also hope, that might be a perfect opportunity. I lay these cards on the table because I believe that God creates all in God’s own image, and invites all into relationships and lives and commitment of love.

Our gospel story this week begins with Mark 10:2, where we read, “Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:2-9, NRSV).

These tough topics always seem to come up as a form of a test toward Jesus. Again, I probably wouldn’t preach on this, if it were me. But at the same time, maybe that’s just further proof that we need to hear these words be preached on. Jesus engages in this conversation and recognizes the word and purposes of the law, “Because of your hardness of heart” (as in verse 5). It’s because of the hardness of hearts and the brokenness and sin that we are all in bondage to, that God has made such a law and acted in this way. God knows that relationships take intentionality, and that some times they break. God also knows that sometimes relationships are unhealthy and at least one part of a relationship may be being hurt or worse. So though there is a sacred vow made in commitments and promises like marriage, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate,” (verse 9) we know that God’s mercy, love, compassion, and grace are there even when such sin and brokenness emerges and exists. Thanks be to God for that.

Now as tends to often be the case in the Gospel, and it seems to be the case especially now in the stories we have been reading from Mark lately, the disciples really don’t seem to get it. At least this time they have the courage to ask Jesus to try and explain it again. The story continues, “Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’” (Mark 10:10-12, NRSV). I’m not so sure Jesus clears much up here. Perhaps that’s the law speaking. The law that is stark with no wiggle room. If so, it underscores just how important the Gospel is, and how much of a change and grace really comes through the saving work of God in Christ who fulfills the law and frees us and saves us.

This week’s story concludes with another inclusion about welcoming children, which is a nice counterpoint to the divorce conversation. A reminder that relationships are complex, and that despite the challenges involved, the brokenness involved, we are called to show love and welcome. Period. The disciples yet again don’t seem to get it, but Jesus sets them straight. Again. As we read, “People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:13-16, NRSV).

The Kingdom of God is beautiful. The Kingdom of God is love. The Kingdom of God is peace, reconciliation, restoration, relationships, welcome, inclusion… The Kingdom of God is mystery. All of this is true. All of this is Good News, especially with such harder themes throughout the gospel story. As we put this week’s stories together and see what it is that the Good News is bringing, I think it’s an invitation to remember who God is, who we are as God’s beloved, who we are as neighbors to one another in relationship with each other, and to remember all that God entrusts to our care, including our relationships. There’s a lot here. Good stuff, though hard stuff too. Stuff about discipleship, stewardship, and mission. Perhaps even examples or calls to innovate or change in some of our practices in order to perhaps better glimpse the in-breaking of the kingdom of God and to help restore relationships.

Whatever story grabs your attention and pulls your heart, may you have the courage to listen and follow the invitation. May God’s love and grace and peace be with you. And may they all be made known through you this week through your work, ministry, teaching, and preaching.

Sunday October 3, 2021: The Narrative Lectionary- The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Narrative Year 4: Week 4)
Narrative Theme: God’s Name is Revealed
Focus Passage: Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:10-17
Gospel Verse: John 8:58

Week four of our narrative journey moves us out of Genesis and into the second book of the Pentateuch and the Bible, Exodus. We find ourselves in Egypt now, and God’s name will be revealed to Moses and through Moses, as God’s people seek saving from their enslaved state under Pharaoh. The narrative brings us this story in three parts.

The first sets the stage of where we find ourselves in God’s story, briefly from Exodus chapter 2, where we begin in verse 23. We read, “After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them” (Exodus 2:23-25, NRSV).

God hears God’s people, just as God heard Israel groaning. And God remembers. God remembers God’s promises, and God’s love. God remembers the relationship and covenant God shares with God’s people. That’s a truth today, just as it was here in the time of Israel’s enslavement in Egypt. The truth that God shared and made real with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the truth we know most clearly through God in Christ today in our faith.

With the stage set, the narrative jumps to the beginning of Exodus 3, where God finds Moses and speaks to Moses, revealing who God is through the speaking of the burning bush. We read, “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’ But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”: This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations” (Exodus 3:1-15, NRSV).

“Here I am.” “I am.” “This is my name.” God is revealing God’s self to Moses and for all of God’s people, but especially in this instance for Israel’s sake. God has remembered God’s covenant, and God will not turn God’s back on God’s people. The relationship matters. The covenant and promise matters. Someone or someones (Moses and Aaron) must be God’s workers toward this end. Jethro too will play a role as a mentor. Together, these leaders will follow God’s call and invitation to help join in and serve as part of God’s work through their very lives and actions.

This is what vocation looks like. This is what leadership looks like. This is what discipleship looks like, and even stewardship too. None of these are easy, and certainly the ask here that God is making to Moses is not an easy thing to hear nor imagine. It’s a weighty responsibility. But God will be with Moses and God is with Moses. And because of that, it will be possible. The people will come to know because God will speak through Moses. Imagine that weighty responsibility? Now remember, all of us as God in Christ’s disciples are entrusted with God’s Word and Good News and called to steward and share that Good News with the sake of the world. God speaks through you and me just as God did through Moses. We might not be leading a people out of slavery, but we might be helping a person or community hear of God’s presence, love, and promise for a first time or a new and needed time in a needed way. That’s a weighty responsibility but one we don’t take on alone. For it is God who is at work in us, with us, and through us.

The narrative for this week then moves to Exodus 4, beginning with verse 10. Where Moses tries to reason with God, doubting his own abilities. I think, if we’re being honest, we all have days and moments like this. Days we worry that we aren’t enough. Days that we wonder if what we are doing matters, and if we can do what it is that needs to be done? Well, here’s how God showed up with Moses in conversation this way. And yes, “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses” (4:14), but that didn’t stop them from being in relationship with one another. God’s love and grace was real, and God’s anger didn’t keep God from continuing to love, call, and be with Moses. We can only trust and hope that the same is true for God’s relationship with us.

We read then from Exodus 4, “But Moses said to the Lord, “’O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’ But he said, ‘O my Lord, please send someone else.’ Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, ‘What of your brother Aaron, the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs” (Exodus 4:10-17, NRSV).

And the life of Moses changes forever. God is revealed and God will be revealed through Moses and Aaron. God’s love and saving work will be made real. And this line of revealing God’s self and God’s purposes will continue throughout the narrative of scripture. Even and especially in the gospels as we hear in John 8, as, “Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am’” (John 8:58, NRSV).

There are so many good things in these stories this week. We’re reminded of God’s work for us. We are reminded of who God is, and who we are. And we hear yet again of God’s deep love for all of God’s own. In whatever way these stories capture your wondering and imagination, may God’s love and promises be made known to you and through you this week. -TS

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s