Preaching Thoughts- Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

I hope you 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 July 3, 2022: Revised Common Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – Lectionary 14
First Lesson: Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-9
Second Lesson: Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16
Gospel of Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The stories appointed for this week are all fairly familiar. From the comforting language of a mother to describe the Lord from the prophet Isaiah, to the call of the psalmist to make a joyful noise to God as we respond for all that God has done for us. From Paul’s letter to the Galatians which includes the very “law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2), to the sending of the 70, and God’s mission set forth in the gospel. There is good stuff here for thinking about God’s mission, discipleship, and stewardship. We’ll dig in and see what these words might call forth in our current context and reflect on what God might be inviting us to notice, wonder, and dig into.

As we generally do, we’ll take these stories in order beginning with the first from Isaiah 66. The prophet calls, “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her— that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom. For thus says the Lord: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies” (Isaiah 66:10-14, NRSV).

Isaiah calls us to rejoice, and that theme will be picked up by the psalmist too. But instead of that calling my attention, today at least, I am drawn to Isaiah’s words, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” This is who our God is. One who comforts us. Who holds us. Who rejoices with us, and we rejoice for. Who provides for, cheers on, and does whatever is possible for their beloved. That’s what all good parents strive for for their kids, and God does this and more. That’s biblical and it will preach, and preach well.

But to you dear readers and fellow disciples, I feel that I can confess some inner grief and challenge that confronts me in this story too. This image from Isaiah is sitting with me today I think in part because, I am not a woman. I am not a mother. I am a male, and a father. I am a husband, and a son (a white and straight identifying male). And in the country that I am grateful everyday to be a citizen of, the highest court in the land, has basically ruled stipulating that at least in some ways, I have more rights than that of my wife and daughters. Whatever one might feel about the case at hand, there is no getting around the way that I feel conflicted and frustrated. I am worried as I look lovingly at my girls and my wife and my mother. Their right to bodily autonomy has been taken a way. God has entrusted them with their bodies, just as God has entrusted me with my own. But, now they have less say and power to do as they would do, then I do. And that is not right.

So when I dwell in this text, I have a challenge squaring this with where we are. I struggle to be okay with the fact that, at least in my country, for the first time in my life time really, the highest court in the land has effectively taken a way a right (or rights) from someone. I want to turn to my wife, my girls, and my mom and say “I see you. I support you. I am with you. I love you.” I know how my mom continues to comfort her now adult children, and I know how my wife, does so for her kids. But about this, I look at my daughters and I worry that somehow the future is not as bright and hopeful as it was when I was their age. And I pray I am wrong about this. I find hope in a passage like this from Isaiah. I certainly will not preach this, this week, but acknowledge it here in case you too are wrestling with how to make sense of where we are? I don’t have any helpful answers I fear, but I have ears to listen, and the gift and privilege of my identity to at least be an ally. There is work to be done, and perhaps that’s part of this week’s message God is calling us to see. We all have work to do- to reconcile to God and one another, to work for justice and peace for all the earth, to continue in our lives as stewards and disciples, and to do all of this grounded in the abundant and abiding love of Jesus which calls us to it.

As we do so, we do so in hope because we know deep down who God is. And for this, we can indeed sing with joy like the psalmist who sings in Psalm 66 as we will sing and proclaim together this week. The psalmist proclaims, “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise. Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you. All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.’ Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals. He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him, who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations— let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip” (Psalm 66:1-9, NRSV).

“Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise. Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!'” We can all say these words. Sing these words. Shout these words. Proclaim them from the mountaintop. Share them in the sanctuary. Pray them before bed. Teach them to our little ones. For they are true. We know how awesome are God’s deeds. And we can’t help but share the good news of what God has done, will do, and continues to do for us. That’s part of our work as disciples and stewards. It’s part of our work in proclaiming that the kingdom of God has come near, and being witnesses to God’s creative and redeeming work in the world.

It’s part of what it means as we give thanks to God for all that God alone can do- like bring life out of death, and forgiveness, mercy, and love for whatever we might do wrong, sin, or mess-up. And so, like the psalmist we are called to invite all of God’s people to hear the good news, and share in it. To, “Come and see what God has done.” That’s part of what is behind Jesus’ sending of the 70 in the gospel this week too. It’s all of our work, our duty, and our joy. We don’t do this because we have to for salvation or life. God provides that, and we could never earn it. It is grace and gift, after all. But we are invited the opportunity to respond and join in. And so we do, and what better way, than to start with the words that the psalmist provides us this week?

The second lesson appointed for this week comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians 6:7-16. Verses 6:1-6 are optional inclusions, and if it were up to me, I would prefer to include them as well. So, we’ll take all sixteen verses and probably consider them in two parts, beginning with 6:1-10. Paul writes, “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith” (Galatians 6:1-10, NRSV).

Back in seminary my thesis’ theological core convictions rested on an understanding of neighbor love. One of the key ideas that grounded that actually comes from “the law of Christ,” as Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Martin Luther digs in deeply about this passage in his writing On the Blessed Sacrament. Because this passage helps articulate what we are called to do as disciples, stewards, and Children of God, who are all together part of the one Body in Christ. Paul writes this in his letter to Galatia, because the people are in conflict and have differing viewpoints. It’s not dissimilar to any time and place (especially our own now) is it? In explaining this Paul orients it to almost a level of responsibility, “for you reap whatever you sow.” This isn’t a works righteousness thing. This is a here and now thing- not for salvation, but for daily life.

God calls us to our vocations, and with that call comes responsibility like Paul writes, “Those who are taught the word must share in all good things.” And, “let us not grow weary in doing what is right.” There’s a discipleship truth here. Nowhere are we told that being a disciple is easy. Following the cross is anything but. But we are called to this, and we are not alone in it. Paul encourages, “let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” We do this because we are One, and one body together. We do this, because it’s what Jesus calls us to do over and over, and especially in his new commandment to “love one another,” that he leaves us with that we hear on Maundy Thursday.

Paul continues writing, See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:11-16, NRSV).

There has been some conflict in Galatia regarding the topic of circumcision. Obviously, I am not feeling all that interested in that topic. But the conflict is providing Paul an opportunity to help the people remember the larger why that calls them together. That we do not boast, but if we do proclaim anything it is Christ crucified, and through which there is “a new creation,” and that truth and promise is everything. It supercedes the seemingly small debates of the day. It doesn’t ignore the pain or hardness or grief, or even wash them away, but it helps us to be able to gather and work for the good of all. Not just a few, but all. And that again hearkens back to the law of Christ (6:2), and our call and sending as disciples which Paul alludes to particularly (in 6:9-10). “Let us do good to everyone,” which is at the heart of why we go out and build relationships as the people of God in and for the world. Because we know it’s not all about us, but all of God’s beloved which God deeply wants to be in relationship with.

Two by two, the seventy were sent out. Do you see the pairs here like I do? I didn’t notice this at the time, but I do now. This was a sight I saw while visiting St. Paul Lutheran Church in Auburn, Nebraska yesterday to preach and visit with the congregation. What a lovely sight, and a great way to help keep people out of the back pews of the sanctuary too and sitting closer to the front I would guess.

The sending and being in relationships theme is abundantly clear in this week’s gospel lesson from Luke. Luke 10 begins, “After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!‘ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.‘ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ (Luke 10:1-11, NRSV)

We are all sent out as disciples and stewards. We are followers who are called to gather together, and who are also sent, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God and that it has come near, and also about the promises of God for all. In this sense, this gospel story is well known. It’s a great piece of wisdom to be sent as part of something bigger than oneself, and not to be sent alone, but in pairs. You hear more of the things that are spoken or unspoken. You are more able to be present and together sense what God might be up to or inviting. Teamwork, in this sense, is the best kind of work for discipleship and stewardship. For neither discipleship or stewardship is the work and responsibility of just one person. It’s part of all of our vocations as Children of God, and not limited to one role or ministry calling or profession (think pastor, deacon, parish ministry associate, bishop, faith formation director, church secretary, etc.). I think we can all agree with this, and recognize its grounded in a baptismal theology.

Where we might run into challenge with this text today is Jesus’ assessment that, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” There are more ministry openings for pastors (and deacons) across the mainline church now than ever, and that trend doesn’t seem to be changing. So if we leave it there, we might fall into a line of scarcity thinking. Instead of wondering about Jesus’ words today as an invitation for more disciples to follow and join in in some way. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity of abundance, that God might just be doing something new. The needs are there for all to hear the good news. The harvest is plentiful for people to be followers of Jesus. But the laborers, are few. We could just say that is the way it has always been, but I don’t think that is Jesus’ point at all, nor is it the faithful move. The faithful response is to wonder about what God might be doing and inviting now and to witness to it, experiment with it, and join in. In so doing, perhaps we are inviting the pair which Jesus sent of the 70 to us, and in so doing, perhaps we might just all witness a little bit more clearly that the Kingdom of God has indeed come near?

But Jesus isn’t finished teaching for this week. The story continues with Jesus saying, “‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’ The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’” (Luke 10:16-20, NRSV).

Jesus knows that when God’s work is being done, amazing things will happen. People who see and witness and participate in it, will be changed. They will naturally want to give thanks and praise. But in doing so, there is a reminder and caution here to give thanks and praise and rejoice for the right things and the right reasons. Not to give thanks and praise necessarily for what I myself did, but for what God is doing. Not to give thanks and praise for the power I or you might have, but that God’s life-giving, life-changing, and life-saving work is being done for you and me and with, through, and in you and me.

Like I said at the beginning, the stories this week are all fairly familiar. But they are rich in depth, with much to be gleaned about discipleship, stewardship, and mission in particular. Whatever catches your imagination, may God’s love and promises be heard by you, and proclaimed through you this week!

Sunday July 3, 2022: The Narrative Lectionary- The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Narrative Theme: Ten Commandments (Week 4 of 4)
Focus Passage: Exodus 20:17
Gospel Verse: Matthew 22:34-40

The narrative lectionary summer series continue this week, with the fourth and final week of four weeks reflecting on the Ten Commandments. This week’s focus passage is just one verse, but it’s a full verse and it has everything to do about us and in our relationships with our neighbors. We read, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17, NRSV).

If you were to summarize this, perhaps it is simply, “you shall not covet.” If you need a little more language, “you shall not covet… anything that belongs to your neighbor.” And in place of neighbor one could simply put in another word for anything that belongs to _________, really anyone who might be “another” of any name or kind.

Put in conversation with the gospel summation of this passage where we read from Matthew, “When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40, NRSV).

Exodus 20:17 is a warning and a reminder about how we are in a relationship with our neighbor. When we remember the purpose of the law we remember it is given in order to provide and preserve life, and so that life might go well for all in relationship with one another. Which connects well with the commandments found in the gospel, particularly, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” How? Well, at the very least by not violating Exodus 20:17, but of course we know it’s more than that too. By working for the sake of our neighbor, and doing what we can to live out our baptismal promises as we serve, grow, and live as disciples, stewards, and Children of God.

A reflection on this passage this week seems extra fitting in a United States context given that this lesson falls on the weekend we celebrate our nation’s independence. We are independent individuals, but for what purpose? And our freedom as a nation, is different than what we believe freedom is as a follower of Jesus. For that freedom is such like Martin Luther describes in The Freedom of a Christian that “You are perfectly free, subject to none. You are perfectly dutiful, subject to all.” For in Christ we are made free, but we are freed and also in Christ, bound to our neighbors. As we live and serve together as God’s people.

There’s lots in these lectionary stories this week. Whatever captivates you, challenges you, or that you are wondering or wrestling about, may God’s love and presence be with you in it, and may God’s love be shared through you and through it for all of God’s beloved.

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