If you’re a Revised Common Lectionary preacher, this is the first Sunday of the church year when you can choose between a First Reading designed to echo the theme of the Gospel and a First Reading designed to provide a semi-continuous path through portions of the Old Testament.
- First Reading (Complementary) – Deuteronomy 5:6-21 – the giving of the commandments
- First Reading (Semi-continuous) – 1 Samuel 3:1-20 – the call of Samuel
- Second Reading – 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 – treasure in clay jars
- Gospel – Mark 2:23-3:6 – healing on the Sabbath
Whichever path you choose, and whichever text occupies center stage in your preaching, you may find opportunity to talk about our role in the restoration of broken relationships. In the Deuteronomy text, God reminds us that freeing God’s people from slavery in Egypt had as one of its effects the restoration of a balance of work and rest. That might be challenging enough for worshippers to hear in a society in which even “having fun” is its own form of hard work. But God “doubles down” on the command by calling for the restoration of that balance for all people, cutting across lines of wealth, privilege, and nationality. In fact, God calls for restoration of balance in all creation. We are not only to take Sabbath, but to give it. As one who has done nearly all of my preaching in a rural setting, I wonder how this command is heard by farmers who choose and breed livestock for maximum productivity and who regularly pump the soil full of chemicals to maximize production year after year. How do we ensure that even the earth has a time of sabbath?
If you choose the semi-continuous First Reading, the text begins by painting a picture of a world in which “the word of the Lord was rare,” a perception that may seem equally true of our own day. God persistently calls to Samuel in a move to restore that relationship; and one of the first lessons that young Samuel learns is that the word of the Lord is not always an easy word.
The second lesson offers some powerful images of God’s acting to restore and maintain a relationship with God’s people. Despite our propensity to shatter the clay jars in which we carry the Gospel, God continues to cause light to shine, even out of our deepest darkness.
This Gospel text is one that we do not have occasion to preach very often. This set of texts is often eliminated due to a longer Epiphany season and a comparatively shorter Pentecost season. Even experienced preachers may never have encountered this passage before. The Gospel of Mark shines a bright light on the challenge for God’s people to sort out the importance of following the Law and the importance of showing mercy and compassion. In this text, Jesus is once again staking his claim to the primary importance of showing mercy and compassion, even at the expense of maintaining the law. The debates that raged in the temple between those who were trying not to abandon the law and those who believed that mercy takes precedence over law may well have been similar in intensity to many debates that our worshippers hear in bars and coffee shops or read on Facebook. The text ends with the ominous report that those who opposed Jesus’ emphasis on mercy and compassion began conspiring to destroy him, another reminder that being a follower of Jesus may come with a steep price tag.
Fellow RevGals and Pals, how will you approach these texts this week? What images will you lift up for your worshippers? How will you encourage your worshippers to stand on the side of mercy and compassion for all of creation, knowing that they will likely be accused of abandoning that which is good and necessary in the law?
Blessings as you prepare to proclaim the Word this week.
Barbara Bruneau is a retired Lutheran pastor, living in southeastern Minnesota and currently serving in interim ministry. She is a knitter, a weaver, and a very occasional blogger at An Explosion of Texture and Color.
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