OT 28 – 21st Sunday after Pentecost

October 13, 2024

Lectionary Texts

Job 23. 1-9, 16-17 — Job despairs that in his suffering he can’t find God anywhere. He wishes he could vanish as completely as God seems to have.

Psalm 22 — My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Hebrews 4. 12-16 says that God’s Word is alive, and sees us in our deepest reality. Jesus, the “great high priest,” sympathizes because he knows our weakness and shares our human travails.

Mark 10.17-31 “Sell what you have and give to the poor.” … With humans salvation is impossible but with God all things are possible.

Preaching Thoughts

       It sounds like the deepest despair from the trash pit of the world, but it’s really the way we all feel sometimes. God just isn’t there. We want to connect but there’s only silence. It can feel like punishment, like banishment, like anger. Or that there’s something wrong with us. But it’s not that God is avoiding us, or that we lack faith. It’s just that we can’t see God. Our senses are too weak. We expect to be able to “feel” God’s presence, but in fact we seldom do. The experience of being abandoned by God is a real part of our faith. We need not judge ourselves, that our faith is weak or inadequate if we feel this way. It’s normal! The essence of faith is not “feeling God,” but reaching out for God even when we can’t feel anything there at all.

Here’s that cry of longing faith: “Why have you forsaken me?” Of course it’s spoken to God with the trust that God is actually listening. And, as happens in the laments, as the psalmist goes on we hear of God’s goodness… and it becomes a song of praise. But we have to go through the night to get to the dawn. We have to be honest about our spiritual loneliness before we discover our spiritual home. First we feel the longing, and only then the belonging.

       The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword. God’s x-ray vision. There’s no hiding anything from God. Nothing is hidden. God sees us in our deepest reality. Sees us from the inside out. God not only separates out our good motives from our bad, God also understands where those bad motives come from, understands our wounds and fears, understands the burdens we bear in our hearts that make us stumble, lose our balance, crash into things and go astray. This is God’s judgment: not ferocious criticism, but compassionate understanding, even if sometimes what’s needed is surgery with that scalpel of the Word.
       Jesus, our great high priest, understands our weakness because he too has gone through the suffering we experience. So God’s judgment is always mercy. Always. Approach the throne of grace with confidence, knowing you will receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

        “Why do you call me good?” Jesus really doesn’t believe in judging people, even to the point that he’s unwilling to call himself good. We’re all just human. That’s all.
       “You lack one thing.” We can follow all the commandments and still fail to love God and neighbor. Righteousness isn’t a matter of following the rules but an open and generous heart.
       “Sell what you own..” The key to Jesus’ wisdom is to let go and trust. It’s at the heart of so much of his teaching: lose your life to find it… blessed are the poor… look at the lilies… take up your cross… forgive seven times seventy times… whatever you do to the least of these… it’s all rooted in letting go. Our main spiritual problem is our attachments: the things we think we can’t let go of. It’s addiction. We’re addicted to all sorts of things: possessions, comfort, control, reputation, security, belonging, power, happiness…. We’re even addicted to our religion and our ideas of God. We can’t allow ourselves to let go of them and allow God to show us something new. We need to follow AA’s Twelve Steps that lead us to let go, not necessarily of alcohol, but whatever we can’t let go of—to let it go anyway and trust God to offer us new life. It’s death and resurrection.
       Our clinging is what blocks us from drawing near to God. God can only be apprehended from a position of empty-handed openness and receptivity. It’s harder to get close to God while hanging on to anything else than it is to cram a camel through the eye of a sewing needle. (No, not merely a narrow gate; an actual sewing needle. Though Jesus does use exaggerations, this is not one of them.)
       “Then who can be saved?” Well, nobody. Nobody can do what they need to do to get saved, which is why they need to be rescued. For a drowning person to do what they need to do to be saved is what we call swimming. Actually being saved means being rescued exactly when they can’t do what they need to do to be saved. For us, it’s impossible; for God, it’s what God does.
       “We’ve left everything.” Peter is kind of raising the stakes. Jesus raises them further: “Before this is over you’ll leave even more of everything.” Not merely possession, but land, home, family.
       Note that in speaking of what we lose and then receive from God, “fathers” is included in what we let go of, but not what we receive. In the new world there’s no authority figure, no hierarchy. We have mothers, but we’re all siblings. In that way the last is first and the first last: we’re not on a ladder but in a circle.

Call to Worship

Leader: Giver of Life, you fill us.
       All: We praise you.
Gift of Love, you save us.
       We thank you.
Power of grace, you bear us into new life,
       We serve you with joy. Alleluia!

Leader: Gracious One, you are our life.
       All: You are our Source, our security, our beauty.
Loving Christ, you are our healing.
       You are our courage, our healing, our hope.
Holy Spirit, you are our breath.
       You are our compassion, our generosity, our love.
       We worship you. Breathe new life in us, and set us free. Amen.

Leader: God of life, you invite us and we come.
     All: Jesus, Beloved, you call to us and we draw near.
We release all we have been clinging to,
and open our hands to you.
     We release all and set at at your feet.
Our anxieties, our hopes, our possessions,
we lay in your hands.
     Do with them as you will,
     for the sake of the world.
We let them go. We are here.
     We are here. We are open.
     We worship you.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

God we hear your call and we want to follow… and our fears and desires pull us back. Speak to us again, call us again, and stir our hearts to move. Let your spirit move in us, that we may become more fully the people you create us to be. Amen.

God of mercy, we want to know what to do to inherit your love. Speak your truth to us, set us free, and bring us with you on the path of Life. We open our heart to your Word. Amen.

Loving God, to enter the realm of your grace there is only one thing needed: to let go of everything and be present. So in your Spirit we relinquish everything we cling to; we let go of our concerns and fears, to be present with you, to listen for your voice, to receive your grace. With empty hands and open hearts we wait in your presence. Amen.

Gracious God, we seek many kinds of wealth, but your Word is all that will give us life and make our living rich. Be generous with your Word now, so that as the Scriptures are read and your good news is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you are saying to us today.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Loving God,
I give you all that I care about.
Letting go, I trust you.
With open hands,
I receive your grace.

Prayer of Confession / Devotion

God, I confess all that I cling to,
all that stands between me and following Jesus.
I confess I need your grace;
all I have done, all I possess, is not sufficient,
but your grace is more than enough.
Help me release what I cling to,
give freely of al my gifts,
and follow you.

Holy God, fountain of life,
my love, my deepest hope and only treasure:
strip me of all that I cling to but you,
that I may come to you empty handed.
I will be poor for you; I will be hungry for you.
I will bring you no riches, no wealth with which to buy your love.
I open to you the simple treasure chest of my heart.
I yield all to you, that I may be yours.
Make me your treasure, yours and none other’s.
In the name of Christ, who gave all, I pray. Amen.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

         We give our hearts to you, God, Creator of all, giver of life, Source of all that is; whose love is faithful, whose grace is abundant, whose heart is generous with mercy.
         We follow Jesus, the Christ, the embodiment of God’s love, who taught and healed, who fed the hungry, who set us free from our fears and wants. He was crucified and died; but in the infinite generosity of your grace you raised him to life. He reigns among us, living proof of your steadfast love, calling us to faithful trust in you.
         We live by the Holy Spirit, your Word unfolding in us, that leads us to live lives of gratitude and trust, compassion, courage and generosity. We believe in the power of forgiveness, the reality of resurrection, the gift of the community of the Body of Christ, and the mystery of eternal life. In gratitude to God, we commit ourselves to lives of abundant love, for the sake of the world, in the name of Christ, who lives and reigns with the Creator and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for
the mystery that you give yourself to us /
this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.
You give us the gift of eternal life. In trust and gratitude we release all else, that open to your grace, we may love you and love our neighbor and hold nothing back. We pray in the name and the spirit of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view songs & hear excerpts on the Music page.)

All of the Gifts I Have (Tune: Fairest Lord Jesus)

All of the gifts I have, all that is within me,
you give to me, O God, with care;
all of my prayers and skills, passions and energies
you grant to me to freely share.

Here are my hopes and dreams, attitudes and deepest loves,
all of the treasure to which I cling.
I will not hold them in, stilling my ardent song,
but serving you I’ll freely sing.

In all I keep or give, may I do my very best
in everything I say and do,
in harmony with you, only to love and bless,
with joy, to serve and honor you.

All That We Hold In Our Hands ( Original song)

What do we hold in our hearts?
The hopes of a hungering people,
longing for you, and for bread,
and to truly be free.
What can we do, who are small?
The power is not ours at all:
God, you have hidden such grace
here in our hands.

What do we hold in our hands?
Nothing we have is unworthy.
An everyday gift you can use
in miraculous ways.
All that we hold in our hands
you’ll use if we give it to you.
Use what we hold in our hands
for what you will do.

What do we hold in our hands?
In it you’ve hidden the wondrous,
fishes and loaves you can use
to feed thousands with love.
All that we hold in our hands
we give in the name of your Son:
more than we ask or imagine,
may your will be done.

What do we hold in our hands?
Grace is abundant, not lacking.
Look now and see what we have
and find power and life.
All that we hold in our hands,
all that we have or can do,
all that we are by your grace
we give now to you.

All that we hold in our hands,
all that we have or can do,
all that we are by your grace
we give now to you.

Feast on Mercy (Original song)
[A dialogue between soloist and congregation]

Refrain: May not my comfort cloud my eyes
to see the needy at my door.
But, poor in spirit, may I rise,
and feast on mercy with the poor.

Cantor: Poor Christ, I confess: I cling to all I posses.
With grace, open my eyes to see the poor
who bear your image to my door. [Refrain]

My my privilege and place
not blind me to my need for grace.
With empty hands I come, for I am sure
with grace, O God, you feed the poor. [Refrain]

As one who by your hand is fed
I hunger now to share your bread,
to see that justice for the poor is done,
for at your table we are one. [Refrain]

Giving Heart (Tune: The Water is Wide- Gift of Love)

O God of grace, you set us free
and feed us all abundantly,
so help me trust the gifts you give,
with giving heart and hands to live.

Come, Spirit, come, and set me free
from all I cling to fearfully.
Come heal my heart, my fears relieve,
so I may give as I receive.

Your Bread of Life transforms us, Lord,
so we become your living Word.
Our lives no more are ours to hold,
but yours to share with all the world.

The Giving Song [Tune: DOVE OF PEACE (I Come with Joy)]

God, send me out into the world to share all I possess.
My generosity shall be the faith that I confess,
the faith that I confess

For you have given me such gifts, grace infinite and deep,
that I can only share them all. There’s nothing I will keep,
there’s nothing I will keep..

And let my giving change me, Lord, to make me more like you:
to let your blessing flow through me, creating me anew,
creating me anew.

My life will not be known by what I have, but how I share,
courageously, with trust in you, with love and joy and care,
with love and joy and care.

Set Me Free (To Love) (Original song)

From all that binds me, Love, set me free.
Set me free, Love, set me free.
Oh Love, set me free to love.

From what I fear, O Love set me free….
From what I cling to, Love, set me free…
To live in perfect love, set me free….

With Open Hands     
(Tune: The Water Is Wide / Gift of Love
or DEO GRACIAS, O Love, How Deep)

O Love, we come with open hands
for grace we do not understand.
We simply take, and we are blessed
that you receive us as your guest.

We open all our treasure stores
in gratitude that freely pours
from open hearts that you have healed,
so in our love, yours is revealed.

You open wide great heaven’s doors;
your love includes, heals and restores.
We share your feast, and we are called
with open arms to all the world.

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