Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 22:1-14 AND Psalm 13:1-6, Jeremiah 28:5-9 AND Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

The lectionary readings for each week aren’t necessarily intended to convey a common theme. They usually offer sufficient variety to stimulate our reflections in multiple directions---offering a potpourri of insights so to speak.

Although the word “potpourri” originally meant “a mixture of flowers, herbs, and spices . . . used for scent,” it has come to mean any miscellaneous collection of things. One definer offers “medley” as a synonym. Maybe by using the word, we can experience this week’s scriptures as full of fragrance or offering music to our ears like a choral medley of tunes.

So, I’ll comment on each reading, offering enough at least, I hope, to stimulate and sustain us in our daily spiritual pilgrimage.

Genesis 22:1-14 tells us that God told Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, on an altar. This request is described as a test. (Genesis 22:1-2) It’s not a pleasant story to our modern ears. What kind of God would ask for such a thing? We can soften it because it has a good outcome and is probably intended to show a movement beyond the religions that did require human sacrifice to the gods. Others will note the parallel between this story and the interpretation of the Gospel which proclaims God sacrificing this beloved son, Jesus.

We may wish to think about sacrifice in our reflections. What sacrifices would be a challenge to us? Think about what it would mean to lose your child. It has hit me with force a couple of times---when one of my daughters was dedicated after her birth with me in the room and when my youngest son almost lost his life while we were on the road moving west. Think about the masses of children whose lives are sacrificed in conflicts around the world or because of famine. When we ignore conditions which threaten the future well-being of our planet, are we sacrificing the future of our children and generations to come?

In this story, God comes up with a sacrifice, a ram “caught in a thicket by its horns.” (vs:13) The punch line of the story is the name given to the place: The Lord will provide. (vs. 14) God’s provision might be another area of reflection, another scent in this potpourri. Do we experience God as providing? How?

Psalm 13, like many Psalms, cries out in impatience alongside expressions of trust and acknowledgement of God’s love. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1, and on through vs. 4) “But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (vss. 5-6) We all have our ups and downs. How do we experience and respond to God in such times? Have we ever been through times when it seemed like God was absent? Have we had times when we were overflowing with praise because we experience an overwhelming sense of divine love?

The reading from Psalm 89 is full of praise and exultation. It connects with the promise of God to be faithful to his covenant and “establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.” (Psalm 89:3-4, along with vss. 1-2) We might want to reflect on our sense of connections with generations before and after us. Do we experience ourselves as part of rich heritage? How do we build on that heritage?

The reading from Jeremiah comes just after he has heard the prophet Hananiah promise that the exiles in Babylon will return to Jerusalem. Jeremiah talks about what the prophets have said in the past. “The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms.” (Jeremiah 28:8) It’s difficult to sort out various prophetic voices that come our way. Do we ever feel confused by all the messages that make their way into our consciousness, through the various media, on twitter, from world capitals, corporate headquarters, university campuses, or through the various sides of debate taking place in street rallies? Jeremiah offers a criterion that finds a place deep in my heart. “As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of the prophets comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” (vs. 9) Where do we see prophets of peace at work? Are prophets proclaiming and working for peace? Where do we see the hope of peace bursting through?
The reading from Romans continues from last week’s reading. Paul gives grace a very high place in his writing. Then, at the beginning of last week’s reading, he asks, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1) His answer: “By no means!” (vs. 2) But he comes back to the same question, and answer, this week in Romans 6:15. His answer this week seems to focus on some thoughts about slavery. We all are “slaves” to something. (vss. 16-17) “Having been set free from sin,” we “have become slaves of righteousness.” (vs. 18) He speaks of as having “been freed from sin and enslaved to God.” (vs. 22)
Like so much of Paul’s writing this passage is full of many nuances, sometimes phrased in troubling ways. Most of us don’t like to think of ourselves as slaves, even in the service of high ideals. There’s lots of reflection to be done here about the nature of slavery. Do we feel bound into patterns of living that enslave? If we are deeply committed to doing what is right, are we somehow enslaved by that agenda---and so what?
Finally, Matthew offers one of my favorite images, that of “welcoming.” It’s not uncommon in the Bible. In the famous parable of judgment in Matthew 25, those being judged are chided or praised for their willingness to welcome the stranger. (Matthew 25:31-46) They are told “just as you did it,” or did not do it, “to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it,” or did not do it, “to me.” (vss. 40-45) The notion of welcoming the stranger traces back to Old Testament law. (See Leviticus 19:33-34, where different translations speak of the “alien,” the “foreigner” or the “stranger.”) In Luke, when 5000 people are trying to get close to Jesus and hear him, we are told, “ . . . he welcomed them . . .” (Luke 9:11) This week’s reading from Matthew is part of Jesus’ instruction when he sends the twelve disciples on their mission. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me,” going on to talk about giving “even a cup of cold water to these little ones . . .” (Matthew 10:40 & 42) It’s all about the gift of hospitality, so often overlooked.
In several of the churches I served, I led members of the congregation through a gifts survey, helping them identify what gifts they might best use in ministry. In one congregation, one of the men of the congregation discovered he had the gift of hospitality. It blew his mind. Like those being judged in the parable, he wasn’t even aware of the gift. Those of us who had been beneficiaries of it could have told him without a survey, but the survey clinched it for him, and he was “Mr. Hospitality” ever after. In these days when immigrants seem under siege, ever bit of hospitality available is needed if we are to fulfill the mission wo which we are called.
Potpourri. What scents and musical tones do we find to encourage us in our living and as we participate in the mission of a God whose steadfast love endures forever?

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