A priestly people

File:Harvest (13429504924).jpg

“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.””

Watching for the Morning of June 18, 2017

Year A

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 6 / Lectionary 11

The First Lesson on Sunday declares that if Israel abides by God’s teaching, they shall be a priestly people. In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends his followers out as heralds and agents of God’s reign. Though the language is different, the substance is the same: a priest mediates the connection between people and God. In the Old Testament this was about the reconciliation (forgiveness) and fellowship with God established through the sacrificial system. In the New Testament it is mediated through allegiance to Christ and participation in the Spirit/reign of God.   In both you are restored to a community bound together in praise and service of God. And in both there is a word spoken that announces the reality of reconciliation and fellowship – a priestly/prophetic word, spoken on God’s behalf, that the sacrifice has been accepted, that reconciliation is at hand, that the hearer now abides in the grace and life of God. “The grace in which we stand”, says Paul in the reading from Romans for Sunday. The debt has been forgiven. Reconciliation has occurred. Peace that has been established. This is our calling. This is our identity. We are a priestly people – or, at least, meant to be a priestly people reconnecting the world with the source and goal of life. Every cup of cold water. Every healing hand. Every kind word. Every confession heard. Every kindness lived.

It is a great honor to be a priestly people. In a world where so much is torn and divided, we have the privilege of joining the realm of heaven with the realm of earth.

Preaching Series: Abram

The narrative of the flood last Sunday set before us the mystery that though the earth is filled with violencebecause of human beings, God suffers for his world and delivers it. But the people that get off the ark are no different than those who got on. And now we will hear how humanity’s rebellion continues in the building of the tower of Babel. But then come the first notes of a new mystery that follows the line of Seth down to Abram. It is a line that seems to dead end with Sarai’s barrenness – but God speaks a strange and wonderful promise that, from the line of Abraham, God will bring blessing to the world.

The Prayer for June 18, 2017

Gracious God,
you bid us pray for laborers to be sent into your harvest,
to a world in need of your healing and life.
Help us to fulfill our calling as intercessors for your world
and bearers of your grace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 18, 2017

First Reading: Exodus 19:2-8a
“If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” – Brought out of Egypt and now before God at Mt. Sinai, the people hear and accept God’s covenant: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

Psalmody: Psalm 100
“Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his.” – A hymn of praise as the community enters into the temple courts and are summoned to acknowledge and serve God.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-8
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” –
having established that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that God justifies all by faith – by their trust in God’s promise – Paul declares that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Gospel: Matthew 9:35 – 10:8 [9-23]
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – The twelve are appointed for the first mission: to be heralds of the dawning reign of God in the towns and villages of Israel. “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHarvest_(13429504924).jpg By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Harvest) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Singing the fight song

Thursday

Psalm 100

English: A photo of Michigan Stadium.

English: A photo of Michigan Stadium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.

It’s a psalm sung at one of the great national festivals when the air is filled with excitement, like walking up the hill to the stadium for the big game.  The drum corps is rapping out dynamic rhythms.  Hawkers are selling food and trinkets.  People are meeting friends with glad cries.   Strangers are calling out to strangers with shouts and chants united by their common allegiance.  You can hear the band playing already in the stadium.  Just the crowd itself fills you with joy and energy.  Everything seems good.  Worries are forgotten, at least for a moment.  You sing the fight song as you climb the stairs into the stadium.

Church is a lot more fun when people come expecting great things.  But we aren’t coming like crowds to a game.  We are coming like workers arriving home from the fields at the end of a long day.  We come with tardy children and cranky adults waiting for them in the car.  We come weary from the week or bleary from the party the night before.  We come with walkers when we would rather walk.  We come with sorrows we would rather leave behind.  We come with regrets from the week – or regrets from that very morning.  We come disillusioned or lonely or worried about medical bills or grown children into whom we can talk no sense.

As teenagers we criticized the church because people returned from Holy Communion with such somber faces.  This was a moment of great joy, this was a taste of the eternal banquet, this was the declaration that all our sins had been forgiven.  They should come back “walking and leaping and praising God,” we thought.  We didn’t yet understand that thankfulness and praise could be complicated, could look more like tears than laughter, more like the grateful recipients of a soup line than the members of a marching band.  Priceless gifts don’t inspire joy as much as deep humility and gratefulness, especially the bread of life given to the weary.

Still, this is a foretaste of the feast to come.  We hear the promise of boundless mercy.  We see the image of suffering and know that the tomb is empty.  We are aware of the presence of fellow pilgrims on this journey.  We may not be headed into a crowded arena but we should, nevertheless, enter these gates with thanksgiving, and these courts with praise.