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.
This 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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