Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
June 14, 2020
Lessons: Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 100, Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people know that change doesn’t usually come overnight and that a full investment in the long-term success of anything worthwhile is necessary and expected.
Key Scripture: And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
Many of us are nearing 100 days of social distancing and sheltering in place, some more, some less, but it’s been a strange time indeed. Leaders of faith communities quickly readjusted to bring ministry and worship into the digital diaspora. Not surprisingly, differences of opinion continue to ignite about whether it is possible to celebrate communion remotely, when to reopen and how, and how to explain to people that singing is probably out of the question for the long term to keep people safe. Congregational leadership, pastors, deacons, and musicians are doing heroic work in adjusting to a new reality and learning new platforms. Many are exhausted and on the edge of mental, emotional, and spiritual burnout.
Then, during the same time frame, four Black Americans were killed, three by police: Ahmaud Arbery, February 23, Brunswick, GA (three white men, one a retired police officer, have been charged with felony murder thanks to the release of a video of the event); Breonna Taylor, March 13, Louisville, KY (shot and killed by three Louisville police officers who entered her apartment using a battering ram in a search for suspects who were already in custody—the FBI has opened an investigation); George Floyd, May 25, Minneapolis, MN (died after a police officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while three others watched—the officers have been dismissed and face murder-related charges) and Tony McDade, May 27, Tallahassee, FL (one officer placed on administrative leave). The killing of George Floyd touched a nerve across the nation that has led to ongoing protests. Now some two weeks later, energy for those protests is not waning, and some changes, including a pledge by nine members of the Minneapolis City Council to dismantle the police department and replace it with a community-based form of public safety. Small glimmers of hope are rising all across the country and a new openness to examine and dismantle racism, white privilege, and white supremacy is growing. This is very good news! This is hope in action!
This week’s lessons offer an opportunity to both honor the fatigue and weariness—especially that of our Black and brown siblings—and to hear words of hope and encouragement from Paul and Jesus. The lessons from Romans and Matthew remind us of the essential work of the church. We are to go out and share the Good News of Christ. We are to heal, practice resurrection, make clean those considered unclean, and cast out the 21stcentury demons that plague our world. The lessons also provide a sobering reminder that the work won’t be easy; we may be hated, our families may be divided, they may arrest us and beat us, but they cannot defeat us because we are steeped in the Holy Spirit and bearing the very essence of Christ to the world.
Friends, we are not alone, and God has promised that we will never be alone. Our suffering will lead to endurance, and that will change us and deepen our discipleship, and that in turn will let hope flow freely as we remember that Christ died a horrible death at the hands of empire and religion to forever destroy death’s hold on all of creation. We are freed in our baptismal covenant to work with Christ in turning this world aright. We, as ministers, have answered questions in our ordination vows that compel us to respond to the needs of this time. In my tradition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we answer these questions “I will, and I ask God to help me.
1. Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with the holy scriptures and these creeds and confessions?
2. Will you give faithful witness in the world through word and deed, that God’s love may be known in all that you do?
Friends, the road ahead may be a long one. As one Black leader told allies on social media, “Change looks like you putting in work. Change looks like you sacrificing. It’s gonna hurt. Buckle up we about to get on the pain train.” Yet even on the pain train there is hope on down the line. But beloveds, as followers of Christ, we have to go through the pain. We must waken to the suffering. We must feel the injustice deep in our bones. Because we follow Jesus there is no other way but through this small portal. Jesus always goes to the margins, to the places of pain and suffering, to bring love and hope to the oppressed, to set the captive free, and to breathe peace into the world.
Let’s put our shoulder to the effort and get on that pain train with Jesus. Let’s invite everyone to get on board. Our destination is beloved community, the kindom of God. Blessings on your faithful teaching and preaching! Thank you for going the extra mile as stewards of all God’s creation.
Whether you are gathering outdoors, practicing social distancing in your worship space, or worshiping in the digital diaspora, remember that gathering is only one part of a holy rhythm we steward. Much more of our time is spent “being sent” into the world, much like the early disciples we read about in Matthew’s gospel this week. How might it change our perspective to acknowledge that we are a people sent with good news rather than a once a week collection of pew ornaments decorating holy space? What challenges? What freedoms?
Even as you work to steward the desire getting back to normal with our worship and social gatherings, you will also be dealing with a concurrent wave of grief on the heels of such radical change in the world. Continue to allow space in worship for lament and sorrow, as well as a call to repent. Don’t be afraid to lean into a new rhythm with your liturgy as we feel and sense our way forward. Invite worshipers to commit themselves to a summer of spiritual travel deep into the heart of God, into new ways of being and doing “church,” and to journey beyond our comfort zones and predictability into the world to which Christ calls us.
This week may be a good time to talk about what matters now. What are the “prime things” in life? How important is your faith in defining and articulating “prime things” in your life? How do you feel after reading Romans 5:1-8? Are you willing to suffer in pursuit of a “prime thing” like following Jesus? What would it look like for you to suffer? How do you feel knowing that suffering isn’t a wasted effort, that it leads to change and hope? Finally, consider what change you want to see/be and what hope might look like. Are you ready to be the face and voice leading to that change?
This week’s focus verse is Psalm 100:1 – Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
Sometimes you just need to make some noise. When we are sad or sad and mad, we cry, and sometimes we cry out loudly to God. When we are happy, we want to sing and shout to God. Today we can give thanks with all of creation by making a joyful noise to God. Listen to the birds sing. Listen to the winds whistle. Hear the dogs bark and the cats purr, the horses whinny, and the cows moo.
This week take the joyful noise challenge. Find at least one thing every day for which to give thanks and praise to God. Gather or make some noisemakers. Engage your entire family in making a joyful noise. Remember, your joyful noise is also a prayer, so let us pray together…
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for all that you have created (for all that you have created). All the earth makes joyful noise (All the earth makes joyful noise), and praises You (and praises You). Hear our noisy prayer (Hear our noisy prayer). Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful. (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace), Amen (Amen.)
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Thank you for continuing to support the ministries of our congregation during these unprecedented times. As it becomes clear that we’re in this phase for a longer haul, we want to say a particular thanks for your faith, your generosity, and your perseverance. Your faithful stewardship of all God’s gifts is the heart of disciple-making and neighbor-loving.
Stewardship at Home
Sitting with Suffering: Our first response to suffering is usually to figure out some way to alleviate it. Whether it’s personal suffering, that of a loved one, or that of an entire group of people, this is easier said than done. We are not meant to “get around” suffering because it can be a pathway to deeper spiritual and emotional growth. Suffering is not the end goal but rather a passageway to new reality. This week ponder some ways you are suffering now. Perhaps you’ve lost a job and health insurance. Maybe you’ve lost friends or loved ones to COVID-19. If you are a person of color you may be exhausted just trying to get enough breath for each day. You might be reeling from a difficult health diagnosis. Once you’ve identified the point(s) of your suffering ask, “What might this season of suffering have to teach me? What would I hope to see as an outcome or new direction? Am I willing to patiently sit with the suffering until a new season rises, trusting God to hold me in divine love?”
You may or may not be able to answer these questions easily. That’s okay. There’s no right or wrong here. The key is to identify your points of suffering rather than filing them away or stuffing them into nice, palatable mental packaging. In opening your heart and suffering to God in silence or in words, the answers will eventually come, and you can get on with practicing resurrection.
Note: If you have children at home you may want to adapt this idea to “what makes your heart sad” and “what makes your heart happy.” Children might be sad that camp is cancelled this summer and sad that we aren’t taking climate change seriously enough. They might be sad about losing someone they love or even sad that the adults in their life seem stressed. Allow good space for their sadness. Listen well. Together you are sitting with the sadness. Spend an equal amount of time celebrating and thanking God for the happy heart things your child shares. You might even make a rainbow of paper hearts to share the “sad heart/happy heart” thoughts.
Images: Elvert Barnes, Lorie Shaull, and the JAM Project, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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