On this Sunday in which the northern hemisphere is in deep summer, images of new life and growth show up in our lectionary offerings.
In our journey through Genesis, Jacob is on a road trip, fleeing the furious twin from whom he finagled a birthright and stole a blessing. With a stone for a pillow, he dreams of a ladder between earth and heaven, heavy with angels moving in both directions who seem intent on getting in a good cardio workout. At the heart of the passage is the heart-quieting promise: “I am with you…I will keep you… I will not leave you” (Gen. 28:15).
In another kind of journey through the letter to the church at Rome, Paul is wrestling with the implications of the debt each believer owes God in light of the “Spirit of adoption.” While “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Rom. 8:14), we have not fully lived into that gift and calling. The apostle draws on imagery from childbirth to describe the process, noting that all creation is groaning with labor pains. We labor in hope.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus continues storytelling-parable-spinning, using images of planting, growth, and harvest, but with an unsettling twist. An unseen enemy sows weeds among the good grain. The slaves ask the householder what to do; he cautions that trying to uproot the weeds would only damage the good grain, and tells them to leave it in his hands.
In the Psalm (139), the poet is singing the praises of the God who created them by focusing on the wonder of God’s omniscience (not to mention, attention to detail). They describe being deeply and truly known by the One who has made them. There’s an enemy hidden in the psalm, too (in verses not appointed by the lectionary); the fury of the psalmist comes as a shock to the reader, following such gorgeous, earthy poetry. In the end, this enemy, too, is left in God’s hands.
Some questions to ponder:
- How does the parable (or any of the readings, for that matter) stir the imagination, challenge assumptions, or make a larger point that will move or lift your congregation?
- How is your journey through Genesis (if you are currently on one) going? Do you still have sufficient fuel? Do you need a rest stop? How are the family dynamics sitting with you? Does family systems theory help with these passages, or are matters of justice moving to the forefront?
- The reading from Romans is so dense: are those of you who are tackling it doing the whole thing, or zeroing in on a particular word, image, or phrase? Are you in the midst of a Romans series, and if so, how’s it going?
- Are you preaching the psalm? If so, what’s your approach? Will you be singing it?
- There’s a case to be made that an enemy is present in each reading: Esau in Genesis; sarx/ flesh (maybe better defined as, oneself) in Romans; the weeds in Matthew; and whatever/ whoever is in opposition to God in the Psalm. Is this a useful path for the preacher this week? Anyone going down this road?
Where is the Spirit of God leading you this week? Will you be ascending Jacob’s ladder in Genesis, or wrestling with the flesh with Paul? Will you be overseeing growth with Jesus, or singing with the Psalmist? We would love to hear where your preaching journey is taking you; please join us in the comments! And, as always, every blessing to you in the preparing and the writing and the proclamation this week. God is with you!
Pat Raube has served as the pastor of Union Presbyterian Church in Endicott, New York since 2007. Pat is a graduate of the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (MDiv). She is currently experiencing a newly-re-filled nest (with both adult children joining her and her partner at home in the midst of COVID-time). Her love for walking, reading, writing, film, and good television is proving useful at this time. A native of the Jersey shore, and in love with the New England coastline, she prays she’ll be able to see the ocean this summer.
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