This Sunday’s Gospel texts ranks high on my list of “things I wish Jesus never said.”

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword… and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

sparrowThis is not the passage to quote if you want to describe biblical family values, or a peace-loving pacifist savior. And yet, these verses come right after the beautiful imagery of God counting the hairs on our head, and of God’s incredible protection of both sparrows and humans. Is there one theme that unites Jesus’ words today? How are you going to address this week’s Gospel lesson in worship?

The Revised Common Lectionary offers lessons from Genesis 21 or Jeremiah 20. In Genesis, Sarah forces Abraham to kick Hagar and Ishmael out of their household, but God intervenes and cares for them. In Jeremiah, the prophet laments his calling because he is continually ridiculed for proclaiming God’s word (preachers the world over may be able to relate!). Which of these are you hearing in worship this weekend? Both options are strong, emotional passages, so warrant at least some attention if they are to be read in worship. Can you tie Ishmael and Hagar or Jeremiah to the Matthew text?

Each Hebrew Bible reading has an accompanying Psalm, and they do a good job capturing the emotions of the other lessons. Perhaps the Psalm can be a starting point for preaching. The poetry describes the experience of need and trouble (Psalm 86) or of shame and exclusion (Psalm 69). Most of your listeners will be able to relate to those experiences. If you do use the Psalm in worship, will it be spoken or sung? Read responsively with the congregation, or read by the lector to the congregation? The method of delivery can change the meaning, and with such rich meaning this week, hopefully the delivery will match!

The reading from Romans 6 offers words of hope.

For if we have been united with Christ in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

The opening verses of the passage invite conversation about cheap grace v. costly grace. The passage goes on to offer promises of eternal life. And yet, you can’t get through two verses without encountering the word “death” or “died”! While the tone is positive overall, the hope is offered in the context of death, which is still a taboo topic among many of our communities. Perhaps this passage offers an opportunity to invite conversation about death and dying, about writing a will and an advance medical directive, and about making plans for your own funeral. Sometimes just naming the reality of death can help people be less afraid of it.

There are countless options for worship themes and sermon topics this week. Where are you going? What hymns are you using? How will the liturgy reflect the readings? Are there any special events or observances going on in our community this weekend? Wishing you all the best in your planning and preparations! Please share your ideas and questions below. Happy writing!


Katya Ouchakof is an ELCA pastor, writer, chaplain, and canoeing instructor located in Madison, WI. This time of year, she spends as much time outside as possible!


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22 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: Swords and Sparrows

  1. I’m working on “do not be afraid.” This quote from a Rick Morley essay from 2014 struck me: “Fear really is the antithesis of faith. And yet, fear hangs on us like humidity on an summer night. It coats us front and back, and attracts all kind of grime, so that even when it’s dries it’s still sticky.” We are so afraid of getting involved, of trying new things, of speaking out, of sharing the truth of our lives. We need courage to act and speak. I don’t like Jesus’ words either but I’m trying to find the gospel along with the call to discipleship.

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    1. Sounds wonderful, Sylvia! I like the fear-humidity analogy. Hoping that the Gospel comes through in your message this week!

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    1. Hmm… if I were involved in any kind of religious academic program, I’d look in to that for a research paper! Fascinating possibility, and then I wonder what other implications such an interpretation would have to other biblical passages! Have you found articles or commentaries that make this analogy, Judy? I’d be interested to hear! (And sometimes I miss the days when an entire semester’s worth of research could be involved in the writing of a sermon!)

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  2. I’m finally getting to preach on Hagar (and Sarah). Think I’ll entitle the sermon “It’s Complicated” but that’s just a first thought. Am struggling with how to tell the story and what to do about the name change–Sarai to Sarah and Abram to Abraham. What do others do when telling th whole story?

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    1. I’m not doing anything with the name change. But names signify knowing and identity in Hebrew Scriptures. It’s powerful that Hagar is the only one who ever names God (El Roi– The God who sees; Gen. 16).

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    2. It’s very complicated, indeed! Glad you’ll get to follow their story for your sermon. And while the name change is interesting, it’s not integral to the story of Hagar and Sarah, so probably safe to leave it out.

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  3. I’ll be preaching on the Genesis texts both this weekend (Hagar) and next (binding of Isaac). The two chapters form the bulk of the Torah readings for the first two days of Rosh Hashanah. Not sure what that actually means for this weekend’s sermon, but there’s plenty of room for Abraham to repent of his treatment of his sons, and there’s midrashim that support that reading.

    This morning I woke up with such a strong conviction that there’s no way to preach Hagar and Ishmael’s story without connecting it to the way African slaves were treated in America– and spinning that out to name the evils we are living with today: white supremacy, colonialism, willful ignorance and putting words in God’s mouth to justify ourselves, to name a few. I’m heartbroken and angry these days! This week’s work looks like holding my anger and sorrow over these evils with an open hand and asking God to join me in crafting a sermon that my parishioners need to and will be able to hear. I’m not at all sure yet that what I want to say is what Spirit wants to say.

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    1. Hagar and Ishmael, slavery… could you connect your message to Juneteenth? (http://www.juneteenth.com/) Not the day that the slaves were legally freed, but the day they heard about it, 2.5 years later. Seems like Hagar and Ishmael were oppressed from the time Sarah forced Hagar to have sex with Abraham (if not before), but they finally heard the promise of being chosen by God in this week’s lessons. Just a thought… but I agree, solid connections to race relations in the US these days, and worth using some sermon time to make those connections, if you can do so in a way your people can hear!

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      1. I love the idea of connecting it to Juneteenth. Also– and I really don’t know what to do with this, if anything— the word used for “cast out” when Sarah and A send Hagar away is the same word used for the Pharaoh “casting out” the Hebrews. One’s an obvious liberation story– is Hagar’s also liberation? I guess…. I don’t know if this is just an attractive rabbit hole or something useful.

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  4. I’m drawn to the Genesis text–a hard one. I’m chewing on this essay https://jakeowensby.com/2017/03/08/big-stories-and-little-lies/ (different scripture, but connected themes of who’s in and out of the [divine] story), and on the trillion small and large ways our racism in the US has tried to tell the story of who’s in and who’s out (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/). Nothing’s solidified, but plenty to think and pray on…

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    1. Thanks, this is really helpful. Will look at both. Currently, I’m looking at the complexity of it all–the intersectionality of ethnicity, gender, class–and what a re-visioning of all that might look like. Can’t see any way to preach this without telling Hagar’s whole story–from her forced exile from Egypt through her life as the property of Sarah to her naming God and giving birth to a nation. It’s all so poignant–especially as I hear and read this text on World Refugee Day and preach it to a congregation that has joined in supporting a local sanctuary church.

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      1. Susan, it sounds like Hagar’s whole story is, indeed, very fitting for your church to take up. Blessings as you continue to listen to Spirit this week….

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    2. Who is in and who is out of the divine story… that could be a theme for nearly every conflict that has happened since the time of Jesus. Huge topic, and hugely relevant. Blessings in your preparation and preaching! We’re using Jeremiah this weekend rather than Genesis, so I don’t have any words of wisdom, but hope that all goes well!

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  5. this Sunday we will hear Romans and Matthew, but it is also 40th anniversary of the UCA [denomination] and we will commission the elders and church councillors. lots happening.
    i don’t know that i will mention it this Sunday, but when i became a Christian, my relationship with my father was strained; his view of people who went to church was that they were hypocrites and he didn’t want his daughter being one of them.

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    1. Pearl – that is a huge burden to carry into ministry. Hoping that you are able to bring the strength and peace that you need to this Sunday’s celebration of your denomination’s anniversary, with whatever personal stories you find to be appropriate or not. Many blessings to you in your preparations, and in this Sunday’s worship!

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  6. This summer I want to relate scripture and the process of exploring what it means to be our church in this day and age (based on wonderful suggestions on the FB page I am just keeping with the lectionary as the scripture base – thanks Gals!) – I am contemplating taking the conversation on death and relating it to the possible death of church as we know it. Or since we do have a lot of older folks, possibly deal with talking about death for humans and relate it to death of the church? I had last week off for a wedding and vacation, and suddenly it’s Thursday evening and I’m looking for anything at this point 🙂

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    1. It sounds like relating Romans directly to the death of the church as we know it could be helpful. Don’t want to pull in too much fear or grief over human death if that’s not going to be the primary focus of the sermon. Though, you know your people – maybe they’d love it! Happy writing and preaching.

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  7. I’m really late to the game this week. It was VBS which was an all-day thing for the week and I had some other things going on (as usual). I’ve finally had a chance to figure out where I might be heading with these texts. We’ve committed to Hebrew Bible readings for the summer and it’s Pride weekend here in the Twin Cities (my congregation is about 2/3 LGBTQ+) so I’m preaching on kinship and where I see that in the Genesis reading. This is what I’ve go so far. Hope it helps those of you who are also coming in late! https://rachaelkeefe.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/should-we-continue/

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