The RCL readings for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) can be found here.

My preaching this summer has followed the story of the Davidic monarchy, and this shift to wisdom literature makes an interesting juxtaposition. Our assigned reading from Proverbs provides both an interesting postscript on the ups and downs of Saul, David, and Solomon, and a lead-in to the themes of James’ letter and even Mark’s gospel. Its emphasis on generosity and justice for the poor is, for me, a consistent thread in this week’s readings.

Of course, any of the readings can stand alone. The letter of James, both last week and this, speaks volumes to me with its call to be “doers of the word.”

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

Christendom may be over, but we still inhabit a world in which it is too easy to be nominally Christian, and even to be a faithful churchgoer, without changing our lives one bit. Even when we recognize that we are “saved by grace through faith alone,” as our reformed traditions do, James reminds us that faith unapplied to life is meaningless. How do we reflect that in our own lives? How do we understand that and at the same time acknowledge that we do not have to earn God’s love and grace? Lots to ponder there!

Perhaps the most challenging of our readings is Mark’s narrative on Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. We are accustomed to seeing Jesus as without sin, and yet, in this story, he is less than charitable towards the woman who approaches him; some would argue that he used a racial slur. In a blogpost written 3 years ago, David Henson provides a useful lens for tackling this all too relevant topic. Do we pretend to be colorblind? Can we shift our focus to see human diversity as a measure of the richness of creation rather than a means of discrimination?

Where are you headed this week, preachers? It’s Labor Day weekend: will this shape your preaching? Are you kicking off the program year or winding up a summer series? Share your thoughts, questions, or inspirations with us!

16 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary ~ Faith, works, dogs, and crumbs edition

  1. This was one of my favorite RGBP conversations ever – on a BE we had a big debate over what Jesus said/meant in this passage. It was such a fun, spirited, passionate debate. I smile every time this reading comes up now. It embodies the Spirit of the RevGals Community to me.

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      1. Kris – it really came down to one’s christology – those with a low christology had no trouble saying that Jesus had his mind changed and may have uttered a slur against the woman; those with a high christology argued that Jesus was leading her along in the conversation for the sake of those watching – using it as a teaching moment. There was a lot of energy in the room and it was a great discussion that Jenee Woodward hosted that day as we walked through the lectionary.

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  2. Over the past few weeks, I keep coming back in my preaching to themes of boundary breaking, tradition/change, the messiness of the life of discipleship, and abundance. So while (like so many) I’m not sure what to make of everything in the Mark text, I am thinking about scarcity vs. abundance. What will happen to *my* bread if *those* people come to the table. That fear of scarcity and protection of assets is what undergirds so much exclusion and -isms. I have a few other possible trains of thought, but I think I’m going to follow that for now because it is most connected with what I’ve been saying the last few weeks.

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  3. I discovered that it is all about the migrant crisis here in Europe. Which was not at all what I wanted to preach on…. but I have to do as I’m told!

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  4. I discovered after I had written and posted this that the Episcopal Church and the ELCA (and maybe others) are joining in“Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday” on Sunday, September 6 at the invitation of the AME church. There are some Lutheran resources here: http://www.elca.org/resources/worship.

    Not sure where I will take it, but I’ve been thinking about my early childhood in the deep south and how that shaped me….and being doers of the word, which I preached on last Sunday, too.

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    1. I’m using the ELCA confession and absolution in the resources, as well as adding an extra collect at the beginning and at the end. I find it very easy to work racism into the Syro-Phoenician woman text. Of couse the Syro- part of that will also help me to call us to the plight of the refugees.

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  5. My congregation is reading through the New Testament together (June through November) and right now we’re in Acts…this week the Jerusalem Council. When I chose the text, I thought it would be a good tie in to the Commitment to End Racism which my PCUSA region is encouraging us to observe this Sunday as well. Today I am struggling with how to do that, so thankful for Kris’s link to the ELCA resources.

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    1. I was very frustrated to find out about this on Thursday morning this week…after the hymns were picked, readings sent to lector so, special Labor Day prayers found/written, and the bulletin copied. I am sad that it just isn’t realistic for us to switch gears at this point, though I will look for a way to work it in.

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  6. Thanks so much for your reflection on the Mark passage, and also the link to David Henson. He has updated his thoughts of 3 years ago, obviously having wrestled further. In the Episcopal tradition we have been invited by our Presiding Bishop to particularly consider racism this Sunday. And, living in Baltimore, I am particularly confronted again this week with the opening of hearings of the officers charged in the Freddie Gray murder. Thank you for providing some help.

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  7. I thought I would preach on James and Proverbs this week, until I got the letter from the Presiding Bishop about “End Racism Sunday.” Instead I found myself reflecting on my Southern upbringing, coming to terms with being complicit in a racist system, and how Jesus’s transformation in his exchange with the Syrophoenician woman gives us hope. Not sure how my conservative congregation (in a pretty white town) will receive it, but there you go….

    (and yes, it’s written — which is why I am never at the preacher party anymore; much to my own surprise I’ve changed my long-held writing patterns to have more time to spend with my husband. Who knew that was even possible?)

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  8. Not preaching this week, but the Mark reading is one that really intrigues me, and I will no doubt do something on it some day. One thought, which I offer to anyone who finds it useful, is that the common way of presenting this (in subheadings in our bibles etc) is that its about Jesus and a foreign woman. But in reality, the action takes place in Tyre, so the woman is on her own territory and it is Jesus who is the foreigner. I’m not sure yet how this impacts my reading, but I’m sure it ought to – particularly in the light of current events.)

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