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I come to these texts with a whole lot of busyness in my head and thinking this post one more thing on my list to get done before boarding a plane early in the morning. There is so much buzzing around in my brain that I hardly expected to hear anything when I finally sat down to listen to this week’s readings. The good news is the whispers of the Spirit are so much more powerful than the noise in my brain.

In each of these passages I hear a call to return to God, to reclaim, and re-member the power inherent in being God’s people. The Hosea texts moves from God’s anger to God’s compassion. The people of God had forgotten their God and fooled themselves into thinking human ways were God’s ways. As a result, Israel was scattered until they could hear God’s call to return home, to return to holy ways.

It would be easy to compare today’s Christians with those ancient Israelites. We could match them sin for sin without doubt. I find myself wondering if we are scattered and held captive by the god’s we have made or are we beginning to hear the compassionate call to return home? Some of both, perhaps. We would do well to examine our lives, individually and communally to find out if we are living more in fear and scarcity or more in gratitude and abundance.

If the Hosea passage doesn’t speak loudly enough of God’s love for God’s people, the verses from Psalm 107 spell it out clearly. “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” We would do well to remember that God calls the wanderers home and feeds the hungry and quenches the thirsty. It is God who has saved God’s people in the past. God has a strange way of repeating these saving acts so we would do well to recall our faith history, pay attention, and “consider the steadfast love of God.”

Of course, the words of Qoheleth aren’t exactly uplifting and might not, at first reading, sound like they have anything to do with the power of being God’s people. However, they really say something important. Toil and strain for the sake of earthly gain are all vanity. Anything we do that does not strengthen the human spirit or the Holy spirit is really quite empty. If we fail to recognize God’s love for the whole of creation, how can our lives have any lasting value? How can the work we do be anything other than meaningless? Let us return to seeking justice, offering kindness, living in gratitude to honor our creator rather than the more fragile gods we so easily construct in our image.

The verses of Psalm 49 echo the sentiment of the Ecclesiastes passage. Here is a clear reminder that wealth, privilege, and power are fleeting. I think there are some politicians out there who know this. We can hear it in their words that come from a place a fear, a place that needs to protect what is and keep those in power where they are. There is a bit falseness in some of the fervor. We can hear some of this same fear in those who deny racism (or worse in those who endorse it) as those who have been powerless for so very long refuse to remain silent. May we all have the grace to find our value and see the value in those around us without regard to wealth, power, and privilege.

If we are wondering how to do this, Colossians tells us. As Christians we “must get rid of … anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.” What great advice! How do we really embody Christ and reflect the love God has for all God’s people? Stop with the nonsense that so freely flows from our mouths from time to time. I would also guess that if this passage were written today it would say something like:  In Christ there is no longer Christian or Jew or Muslim or American or European or Immigrant or Black or male or Transgender or any other label we place on each other to figure out who the sinners are. We tend to forget that “Christ is all and in all.” Imagine what the world would be like if we re-membered this!

If we haven’t heard it by now, the Gospel lesson emphasizes how foolish we are to treasure anything other than love – love of God, self, and neighbor. Everything else is far too fleeting. You know, that vanity Qoheleth lamented.

Where is the Spirit guiding you? Do you hear a call to be God’s people or something else?

Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, vlog, and books at Beachtheology.com.

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14 thoughts on “RCL: God is Calling. Are we Listening?

  1. I will be preaching on Luke and encourage reflection about what our most valuable possession is and how we can share that with the community. A small congregation, we have an abundance of space, inside and outside, and I’d love to see us sharing it. In the last two months, a social services agency has begun using part of it one day a week but there’s still more available. Too, like many small congregations, we need to ask, how can we be less anxious and more confident in God’s provision?

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    1. Two different versions of George Carlin’s monologue on Stuff are linked here:
      http://www.songlyrics.com/george-carlin/a-place-for-my-stuff-lyrics/
      http://www.library.armstrong.edu/eres/docs/eres/ANTH1102-1_BRUNO/110235bru.Carlin.pdf

      A few years ago, I quoted him in a stewardship sermon I preached as a guest at the church where I grew up. My brother was shocked that his older sister would quote Carlin in a sermon! (He actually paid attention!) Depending on the generations present at your worship, this may help get attention and provide a lead-in for your message.

      “Everybody’s got to have a place for their stuff. That’s what life is all about, tryin’ to find a place for your stuff! That’s all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house.”

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  2. I am just back from leave on Saturday so am re-purposing a sermon from 6 years ago talking about STUFF using the Flylady.com acronym to discuss the things we hold on to [physically and mentally] that are Something That Undermines Family Fun [ or Friendship and Fun as I am using to use language that includes single members of our congregation without family nearby]. Hopefully it will speak a new message to my current congregation. I am hoping it opens a conversation about mission, outreach and what we can do to move away from the ‘buildling up’ mentality and move towards the ‘cup runneth over’ sharing of our good news and blessings.

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  3. What a gift these texts are today! I love the mothering language in Hosea– both nurturing and fiercely protective– and the call to celebration and thanksgiving in Psalm 107. And the gospel passage makes me wonder, “if life doesn’t consist in the abundance of possessions, what does it consist of?”

    As a side note, the Hosea imagery of God teaching Ephraim to walk brought to mind Jesus calling Peter to step out of the boat. That might be a connection for my own meditation, and/or it might be intended for my congregation as they move through some deep changes.

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  4. I am struck by with the intersection of Colossians 3:1-4 and this quote from Michelle Obama’s address to the Democratic National Convention last night, “How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.” She talked of she and Barack being intentional about modeling this for their daughters, making it the family motto.

    Colossians 3:1 You have been raised to life with Christ. Now set your heart on what is in heaven, where Christ rules at God’s right side. 2 Think about what is up there, not about what is here on earth. 3 You died, which means that your life is hidden with Christ, who sits beside God. 4 Christ gives meaning to your life, and when he appears, you will also appear with him in glory.
    Contemporary English Version (CEV)

    What does it mean for us to choose the high road? Intentional high actions and speech when it would be easy to be reactionary. Real meaning of life is with Christ. How do we live the high road even when it is difficult or dangerous?

    I am tempted to make this a conversational sermon, as the congregation enjoys “talk back.” What values and goals are your high targets? How did you arrive at it/them (Family of Origin or negotiation or adopted from others)? Which of your goals/foci are biblically/faith based?

    Sometimes we end up with consensus around a low value because we don’t want to offend anyone or because we don’t like the cost of going high.

    What do you think?

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  5. there used to be an English TV show here called “The Good Life”, about a couple who attempt self-sufficiency in their suburban backyard,. I am thinking about what makes a ‘good’ life?
    as it is Wednesday evening, i need to do some more thinking about it very soon.

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  6. The challenge for me this year is to preach this and similar texts to a congregation that is pretty affluent. Many of them come from a financial management background and in some ways could be the main character in the parable. Yet we have a huge deficit budget…and I am not a full time call. So in a way this gospel will be the first of several stewardship sermons … How do we embrace a theology of abundance?

    It’s challenging for me also because my previous call was in a place that was almost the exact opposite of where I am now – solidly lower middle to middle class incomes but a HUGE endowment that ensured the existence of the church and a HUGE building that was underutilized. (Small building now with little space to share…) The one common denominator: a culture and theology of scarcity – lived out differently in the two contexts, but present none the same.

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