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Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures:
All Saints Day: Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 OR Isaiah 25:6-9 AND Psalm 24:1-10, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44
Sunday, Nov. 4, if not celebrated as “All Saints Sunday”: Ruth 1:1-8 AND Psalm 146:1-10 OR Deuteronomy 6:1-9 AND Psalm 119:1-8, Hebrews 9:11-14, Mark 12:28-34

The lectionary offers a set of readings for Sunday, Nov. 4, if it is not celebrated as All Saints Sunday. If it is, then the lectionary readings for All Saints Day (Nov. 1) are to be used. Of course, in the free church tradition we are not bound by any particular set of readings so we’ll just have to come on Sunday and find out what happens.

The various optional lectionary texts are numerous and diverse enough that I’ll suggest three topics for exploration with questions and suggestions in each category. In some way, I see them all as calling us to consider “Things of Enduring Significance”.

In the readings for Sunday, Nov. 4, I see a focus on the principles upon which we build our lives. What are the enduring values, and what the Bible sometimes calls commandments or laws, that are worth living and dying for? What principles and values hold the universe, and human relationships in particular, together?

In the Judeo-Christian heritage, the Ten Commandments, recorded among other places in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy, provide a framework for living in full relationship and harmony with God and one another. The next chapter, from which one of this Sunday’s readings is taken, can be read as a summary of the content and significance of those commandments. The summary, a centerpiece of Jewish worship, is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The Hebrew people (and we?) are instructed to immerse ourselves in the truth of the commandments and to pass their values on to future generations. “Keep these words . . . in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them . . . Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (vss. 6-9)

While the external symbols may seem a bit much to some of us, they remind us of how important it is to have things that keep us rooted and grounded in values that endure. In the church of my childhood, I remember that one would not think of walking to church without carrying one’s Bible. The Bible was visible in a prominent place in the home, and no other book was ever placed on top of it. Those were empty rituals, to be sure, if one did not keep the words in one’s heart, but what are the rituals in our lives today that remind us to pay attention to and live by enduring values and principles?

In the Gospel lesson from Mark Jesus draws upon Deuteronomy in presenting his summary of the commandments. He is asked by a scribe to identify the two most important commandments. Jesus first quotes directly from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 about loving God with all one’s being. (Mark 12:28-31) Then he adds, from Leviticus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) It’s amusing that the scribe sees himself in a position to pat Jesus on the head (well, not literally) and tell him he got the answers right. (Mark 12:32) When the scribes repeats the answers back to Jesus, Jesus returns him the compliment and says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (vs. 34)

Psalm 119, a long chapter which extols the virtues of God’s commandments, laws, statutes, and precepts, offers these words in the lectionary readings for today: “Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart . . . O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” (vss. 2 & 5)

If principles and values, commandments and laws, are one place to look for things that endure, relationships are another. The four act drama recorded in the short book of Ruth is about enduring relationships that cross lines of tribal identity. A family from Bethlehem in Judah (the heartland of Jewish identity) travel to the country of Moab. They are Naomi and Elimelech and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. (vs. 2) Elimilech dies and the two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. (vss. 3-4) Naomi and her two daughters-in-law are left alone when Naomi’s two sons die. (vs. 5) When Naomi decides to return to her homeland, her two daughters-in-law insist that they are going with her. (vss. 6-10) Naomi tries to send them back, but Ruth refuses (vss. 11-15), declaring her heartfelt commitment in those words familiar to many: “Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there I will be buried.” (vss. 16-17) If we read to the end of the story, we would find that Ruth marries and is part of the line of Jesus ancestry with her name listed in Matthew 1:5.

For now, it is sufficient to reflect on the relationships that endure in our lives. What lines are we prepared to cross in the name of loyalty? What legacy comes from the relationships to which we are loyal?

If principle and values and relationships are among the things that endure, religion has always addressed the enduring significance of human life itself—often in terms of an afterlife. All of the readings from All Saints Day, a day when we remember those who have gone on before us, have a perspective on the endurance of life.

The Wisdom of Solomon speaks of peace and immortality. “ . . . the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God . . . they are at peace . . . their hope is full of immortality.” (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-4) Isaiah presents a picture of “all peoples” gathered for “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” (Isaiah 25:6) Death is swallowed up forever (vs. 7) and “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (vs. 8) The book of Revelation, speaking of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1), picks up the same theme. “ . . . he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” (vs. 4) Note that the picture here is of God dwelling “among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” (vs. 3) This vision of new beginnings sounds less like some ethereal heaven than God entering into the lives of human beings—perhaps something like the kingdom of heaven in our midst that Jesus sometimes spoke of. John, chapter eleven, the story of the death of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, offers the image of resurrection as a way of overcoming death. (John 11:44) Various elements of the story cry for attention (Jesus relationship with Mary and Martha (vss. 32-33 & 39-40), Jesus’ tears (vss. 33 & 35), Jesus words, “Unbind him and let him go,” (vs. 44), as well as the parallels between this story and Jesus’ own resurrection), but for now I include it as another perspective on life as something that endures.

All these readings call us to reflect on what our hope is with regard to the endurance of our lives, the principles and values that we have lived for, the mark of living and dying makes upon the world. And, as we celebrate All Saints Day, what of those who have gone before us?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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