As we inch closer to the end of our Lenten journey, David Ackerman in his Beyond the Lectionary materials invites us to wrestle with our place in the world. The reading from Deuteronomy seemingly provides divine authorization for ethnic cleansing. In a world where such actions are being perpetrated in the name of religion or national identity, how should we respond. In the reading from Romans, we're faced with Paul's guidelines for relating to the state -- at a time of increasing anti-government sentiment in the United States, how should we understand the role of the state. Then finally, in the Gospel reading, Jesus speaks of false Messiahs. Who in our midst are the false Messiahs? Can we invest in people expectations that create at least in our mind a false idol? These are important conversations to take up as we seek to follow Jesus in a complicated and -- can we say -- fallen world? (My Niebuhrian side is coming out here). I invite you to consider these readings as you journey through Lent as pilgrim or as preacher.
“Forgive Us Our Xenophobia”
Call to Worship: Psalm 141:1-4 NRSV
One: I call upon you, O Lord; come quickly to me; give ear to my voice when I call to you.
Many: Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.
One: Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.
Many: Do not turn my heart to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with those who work iniquity; do not let me eat of their delicacies.
Gathering Prayer: We continue to come in this holy season to wrestle with some of the most painful realities of our past and present. As we worship you today, help us to work for a future where love and inclusivity triumph over imagined claims to purity and righteousness.
Confession: As we draw closer to the cross, God, we continue to repent of the ways that we have misused your scriptures to abuse others. When we think about the violence that we have perpetrated against others simply because they were different or were not “part of us,” our hearts are grieved to the core. Forgive us the wrongs we have committed against our brothers and sisters because we were ignorant and too focused on ourselves.
Assurance of Forgiveness: God frees us from the sins of yesterday so we may work for God’s realm today. Let us do so, trusting in the promise God gives us of a blessed tomorrow.
Scriptures: Deuteronomy 7:1-5 – “Destroy Them”
Romans 13:1-7 – “Be Subject to Authorities”
Mark 13:21-23 -- “False Messiahs Will Appear”
Commentaries and sermon ideas are available in Beyond the Lectionary.
- The author of Deuteronomy 7 calls for the annihilation of the Gentile people who inhabit the Promised Land. What concerns does the Biblical writer mention that would provoke a commandment like this? What do we make of such language today? In a world of terror and ongoing violence, do you think that preachers should speak against these verses in deference to other Biblical values such as inclusivity, justice, and peace? How may we prevent a “backlash” of anti-Semitism from those who would misuse these verses to justify hatred against Jewish people?
- In Romans 13, Paul calls for Christians to “be subject” to civic authorities. Do you find his justification on behalf of ruling authorities to be convincing? If Christians are faced with unjust laws, do you think that they should timidly defer because “whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed” (v 2)? How do you think this passage was used during the Holocaust, and can you see it being used today to justify a totalitarian state? Should Christians’ relationships to the state be as simple as Paul seems to suggest here, or is the situation really more complicated?
- How does Jesus’ call in Mark 13 to be on the lookout for false messiahs fit with the other readings for today? Do you envision the true messiah as a militaristic or political leader who rules by the power of force? How is Jesus’ ministry different from such an image?
- In an age of terror, war, and genocide where people are afraid of “others” who are “different” why do you think it is important for Christians to take a long look at passages like these? Can we look at them honestly in their context before recklessly applying them to our world today?
Prayer of Thanksgiving: As hard as it is to acknowledge our sins before you, we thank you, God, that in you we find genuine grace and mercy.
Benediction: As a people assured by the good news of God’s grace, let us go now to do the constructive work of proclaiming the realm of God in our world. Amen.