Thursday, January 30, 2014

God Breaks Down Walls of Exclusivity -- Alternative Lectionary for Epiphany 5

What are the walls that divide us today? Americans live in a politically polarized nation -- and that covers a wide variety of divides. Paul speaks of our oneness in Christ, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male and female (Gal. 3:28), but we remain divided nonetheless.  The vision of God, however, is for these walls to come down.  In the reading from Joshua, the walls of Jericho come down.  This might be good text to read metaphorically.  Then there is the story of Peter's vision, opening the door to the Gentiles.  To whom might the door be opened today?  And finally, we have a word about light and vision in the Gospel reading -- what vision does Christ wish to share with us in this moment in time?  I again invite you to consider these alternative lections (Beyond the Lectionary: A Year of Alternatives to the Revised Common Lectionary), provided by David Ackerman, a United Church of Christ Pastor.  


Epiphany 5

“God Breaks Down Walls of Exclusivity”

Call to Worship:  Psalm 135:1-7 NRSV

One:  Praise the Lord!  Praise the name of the Lord; give praise, O servants of the Lord, you that stand in the hose of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God.

Many:  Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing to his name, for he is gracious.

One:  For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession.

Many:  For I know that the Lord is great; our Lord is above all gods.

One:  Whatever the Lord pleases he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.

Many:  He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth; he makes lightnings for the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.

Gathering Prayer:  When we come together, God, we form a circle of grace that is a source of comfort to us.  But sadly, it’s too easy to be comfortable with just ourselves, and we fail to make room for others as we should.  Help us, in this time, to break down walls that keep us from including our sisters and brothers fully.

Confession:  God, we are afraid of change and difference, and are easily threatened by things that we do not know.  We are too quick to listen to the voices of those who would exclude in the name of preserving some imagined righteous status-quo.  Forgive us for quenching your life-giving Spirit.  Change us, so that the vision you shared with your disciples long ago may be ours, and that we may work to tear down all obstacles that keep us from each other and you.

Assurance:  We have good news to share.  God has shown us that the walls which would imprison us from grace are all torn down.  We see anew that the way to life is not through fear but through love.  By the grace of God, let us embrace our brothers and sisters, in all their difference, with the kind of compassion God calls us to have this day.

Scriptures:      Joshua 6:1-5, 15-25 – “The Battle of Jericho”
Acts10:1-28 – “Peter’s Vision”
Luke11:34-36 – “Your Eye Is the Lamp”

Commentaries and sermon ideas are available in Beyond the Lectionary.

Reflection Questions:

  •  As was the case with last week’s reading from Joshua, the issue of violence in the name of religion/nationalism is again at hand in today’s first reading.  What do you make of such violence?  How might the sparing of Rahab be viewed a sign of favor to the Gentiles?
  • Look at Luke 18:35-43What connections do you see between this story and Joshua 6?
  •  What walls or hindrances are in front of you in life right now?  How about for your church?  What would it take for those walls to tumble down and for you to be set free from them?
  • While the retelling of Peter’s vision (Acts 11:1-18) appears on Easter 5 of Year C, Luke’s initial description of it in Acts 10 is different enough that it merits its own hearing.  Not only that, it is crucial in terms of the Epiphany theme of including Gentiles.  Aside from removing certain food restrictions, what do you think is the bigger meaning of this vision?  How do you think it influenced Peter’s position at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15? 
  • What obstacles to fully including people who are different from you do you face in your life?  What keeps the church from being fully inclusive and fully welcoming?
  • Reflect a moment on Luke 11:34-36What might we imagine is Jesus’ vision for our world?  What are some things that keep us from living out that vision today?

Prayer of Thanksgiving:  We thank you, God, for all the ways that you show us how you break down every obstacle to love and grace.

Benediction:  God has given us a vision that encompasses people everywhere and leads us to abundant life beyond our imagining.  Let us go now and share the news that we are set free this day to love and serve our neighbors fully, as God would have us do.  Amen.

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