Lectionary Reflection for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, Proper 18
September 12, 2021*
Gracious is the LORD and righteous; our God is full of compassion. Psalm 116:5
The arrival of autumn in the northern hemisphere brings with it crisp nights, bright days, back-to-school, weekend football, fall festivals, bonfires, colorful leaves and tasty apples, and, for church folk, annual stewardship campaigns and commitment Sunday. To my way of thinking, every day should be part of a life-long stewardship initiative, just as every day should be an occasion to give thanks in all circumstances. It’s not just that your glass is half full rather than half empty, but that your cup overflows with the goodness of God and an awareness of life’s blessings. In fact, this Sunday’s lectionary offers a wonderful (and underutilized) opportunity to foster a spirit of stewardship and an attitude of gratitude in the assembly.
This week, consider focusing on Psalm 116. This psalm expresses one individual’s praise and offering of thanks for what God has done and is doing in the psalmist’s life. It is a vivid, heartfelt hymn of praise to the One who listens, who makes things right, and who showers us with blessings and rescues us from death. This grateful psalmist has experienced firsthand the results of walking faithfully with God, and so can we 21st century disciples. Learning to see, honor, and respond to the bountiful gifts of our gracious God is integral to the lifelong process of becoming a faithful steward of this gifts.
How often do you openly celebrate and give thanks when members of your faith community return to active participation after a serious illness or accident? Just last week in my own congregation we rejoiced when two members returned to worship — one after recovering from a serious car accident and the other from an accidental fall. We rejoiced as a community to have them with us once again. They are real-life witnesses to the healing power and blessings of God. It was a day of jubilant celebration, especially as we also bore witness to not one but two baptisms. What a day of joy and celebration! What a delight to worship in the presence of the God who saves, who loves, and who journeys with us!
In these times of tough economics and contentious politics, the church needs to help people see the blessings of God, and in seeing them to celebrate and share them. Part of our job as the Body of Christ is to lift one another up, celebrating our joys and sharing our burdens. Psalm 116 provides a template for recognition and sharing of what God is doing in our lives. If you make this psalm a focal point of your proclamation or teaching, I encourage you to use the entire psalm and to consider a community reading of it. Then ask people to identify and share what blessings God has showered upon them. Do they have a roof over their head and enough food to eat? Do they have a job and enough resources to enjoy a satisfying quality of life? Do they have meaningful relationships? Reliable transportation? Good health and access to affordable healthcare? A faith community where you can be accepted and loved, where you can grow and thrive? Did you wake up this morning and draw breath? There is much for which to be grateful; God’s abundance is everywhere, filling our lives when we open our hearts and minds to its unending possibilities.
I am thoroughly convinced that stewards grow, thrive, and bloom in the fertile soil of gratitude and thanksgiving. Where better than in our faith communities can people be nurtured and nourished for lives of faithful discipleship and responsive living? Our job is to help them see their lives mirrored in God’s divine love, grace, and mercy. Then, and only then, will we see real growth in discipleship , service, and generosity.
So, dear friends, let Psalm 116 serve as the template for your own response to God’s goodness and invite others to do the same. Perhaps you can stretch out large sheets of butcher paper or newsprint and invite people to chronicle their blessings and gratitude with colored markers or crayons. Maybe it would work well in your ministry to pass out index cards or sticky notes on which people can write simple blessings and then post them on a designated wall, leaving them up until the end of the Pentecost season as a visible record of God’s abundance. If you digital cameras, invite members to write a blessing on a sheet of paper and hold it up where you can take simple portraits of person and praise. Consider putting these into a simple PowerPoint set to praise music to be shown either in the assembly or in a place where the community gathers for fellowship.
Yes, we do deny ourselves and the ways of the world to take up our cross and follow Jesus, and we will encounter pain, hardship, suffering, and loss. But we remember that the way we walk leads to real life, life that matters, life abundant, and life that lasts beyond time. And with the psalmist who sang so long ago, we too can sing, “I will walk in the presence of the LORD in the land of the living” (Ps. 116:9). Thanks be to God!
In Worship and Study
In addition to the ideas mentioned above, here’s an Inventory of Personal Blessings from the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont.
Consider lifting up the passage from James this week (James 3:1-12). Ask youth how they see verse 10 played out in real life (“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”). How might more emphasis be placed on blessing rather than cursing (gossip, slander, bullying, profanity) and what effect might that have on the lives of all involved? Have you ever seen the movie Liar Liar, starring Jim Carey? This comedy with a message might be appropriate for watching in the context of this epistle lesson. Finally, challenge youth to find ways of blessing others through kind words, promises, and positive reinforcement in the upcoming week. Be sure to follow up and ask them how it went. End your time together by blessing one another in the name of Christ.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” So the old saying goes. Unfortunately, this saying is not true because words can and do hurt others. Tell the children about a time when you were hurt by words. Ask if they have ever been hurt by angry words. Read part of this week’s epistle from an easy-to-read version of the Bible. Remind them that as God’s children we are to be careful how we use the power of words. We are called to bless rather than harm, to seek justice and peace for all rather than revenge or harm. Give each child a card (the size of an index card) on which you have printed “God loves you, and so do I!” You might also with to print information about your congregation on the other side. Challenge the children to find one person this week who needs a kind word of encouragement, say something truthful and kind, and give the person their card. You could even make enough for the entire congregation and issue the challenge to them. Be sure and follow up to see what happened! Finish with a prayer blessing the children and asking God to give them the gift of kind words and loving hearts.
*This reflection was first posted on the same Lectionary week in 2012.