OT 30 – 20th Sunday after Pentecost

October 23, 2022

Lectionary Texts

In Joel 2.23-32 rain and abundant crops following years of locust infestations are a symbol of God’s forgiving and renewing grace. Despite our past sins, God pours out God’s spirit on everybody alike—without exception.

Psalm 65 celebrates God’s abundant blessing. The creation of the world, the abundant provision of the earth, and the forgiveness of our sins are all equally great signs of God’s grace.

In 2 Timothy 4.6-18 an old pastor, a follower of Paul, reflects back on the lonely struggles of their ministry, and what it means to keep on doing God’s work even when other people abandon or resist you.

In Luke 18. 9-14 Jesus tells a parable about two people at their prayers: a Pharisee, who would be thought of as a good person, and a tax collector, who would be labeled as a “bad” person. Which one gets closer to God? Surprise!

Preaching Thoughts

Joel
     I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. Note the inclusiveness: not just Christians: everybody, male and female, old and young, rich and poor. Despite our past sins, God pours out God’s spirit on everybody alike—without exception. What might it mean in your context to “dream dreams… see visions… prophesy?”

2 Timothy
     I have fought the good fight. Or, in less combative terms, “I have stayed in the struggle.” It’s not over, of course. The “fight” or “race” is not some campaign, but simply the long, hard work of staying faithfully loving and working for justice in a world that resists those things. Being kind in a rough world. Staying hopeful when things are bleak. We don’t need great accomplishments to know that we’ve lived good lives. We just need to “keep the faith”—stay loving, no matter what. The author knows it’s not his own merit that enabled him to persevere: “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” When we live in harmony with God, in all our struggles God stays with us and takes care of us. Our confidence is not in our own faith but in God’s guidance and protection.

Luke
     Tax collectors worked for the Romans, were usually corrupt, and were looked down on. Although we have come to think of Pharisees as “bad guys” because of their opposition to Jesus, they were actually well-respected, deeply devout, obedient believers. Jesus himself may have been a Pharisee. This story includes a prayer that is like actual prayers that are preserved from Jesus’ time. One said, “I thank you, God that you have not made me a sinner, or a slave, or a woman.” It’s true that all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. But humility doesn’t mean thinking of ourselves as less than others. It means avoiding comparing ourselves at all, trusting that everyone is equally worthy and beloved. Humility means being human, knowing we belong in humanity, neither better nor worse than others, but simply a member. Humility doesn’t require us to be self-denigrating; it means being honest about our gifts and our flaws, without needed to compare ourselves.
     The Pharisee’s prayer is entirely self-centered. The tax collector goes home “justified” not necessarily because their prayer is more humble, but because it’s an opening to God, a desire for relationship—and maybe even change. Again we’re challenged to move our prayer from asking for things to being present for God and listening.
    The tax collector prays “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” In Mk. 10.47 Bartimaeus cries, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Rooted in both these prayers is the Jesus Prayer which is widely known in the Orthodox tradition: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” For those who have a hard time with doctrinal terminology, I like “Jesus, Beloved, have mercy on me, for I need you.” Either way it’s a great prayer for repeating like a mantra.

Call to Worship

1. (from Ephesians 2.4-10)
Leader: God, you are rich in mercy.
All: With great love you have loved us.
Though we were dead in our sins
you have made us alive together with Christ.
By grace we have been saved.
We are what you have made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which you prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Alleluia!


2.
Leader: God, not by our strength,
All: but by your grace we come.
Not because of our righteousness,
but in your grace, you love us.
Not by our effort,
but by your Spirit in us, our praise overflows.
We thank you. We bless you. We worship you.


3. [from Psalm 65]
Leader: Loving God, by awesome deeds you have delivered us.
All: O you who answer prayer! To you all hearts shall turn.
Hope of the ends of the earth, you have established the mountains.
O you who answer prayer! To you all hearts shall turn.
You visit the earth and water it. The river of God is full of water.
O you who answer prayer! To you all hearts shall turn.
Your footsteps overflow with richness. All Creation sings for joy.
O you who answer prayer! To you all hearts shall turn.

4.
Leader: Eternal God, you who create the universe by your Word, we praise you.
All: You who fashion the world with your hands, we thank you.
You who shape the world by your love, we greet you.
You have made all things wonderful,
and you have made us, your beloved,
truly wonderful.
How can we not then fall in love with you?
Though our hearts get mangled and our lives get twisted ,
still we are your wondrous creatures, and you love us.
Alleluia! Come, Holy One.
Claim us and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!


5.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: The river of God is full of water.
Awaken our hearts, and open them as vessels to your grace.
We drink deeply of your love.
May the river of life flow through us;
may we send forth streams of mercy.
Alleluia! Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, O God
,
and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

6.
Leader: O God, you who speak to us in prayer, we turn to you.
All: We still or hearts, that we may hear.
We open the window of our spirits
that your light may flood in.
We open the door of our hearts,
that we may receive you and attend to you
with all our powers of adoration and love.
Speak to us, for your servants are listening.
Alleluia! Make us yours forever. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of mercy, we come before you with all our sin, and all our beauty. You receive us with such deep love. We open our heart to you now. Speak your Word to us and transform us by your grace. We pray in the name and the company of Christ. Amen.

2.
God of all creation, you visit the earth and water it, and make it glorious by your grace. We thank you for your love, and we open our hearts to your grace, that by your Spirit alive in us we may live lives of humble praise. Amen.
3.
God, you have promised through your prophet that you would pour out your Spirit on all living beings. Pour out your Holy Spirit on us now that in hearing and proclaiming your Word, in prayer and song, word and silence, we may hear your voice, receive your Spirit, and be changed into the image of Christ. God, be merciful to us, and grant us your grace. Amen.

4.
Loving God, we do not pretend to know your will, nor do we seek to understand your mysteries. We only want to draw nearer to you. Be present with us, and let us receive new life. Speak to us, and let us hear. Touch us, and let us fall in love. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Pastor: The grace of God is with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, we open ourselves in honesty to God.
God of love, help us to see ourselves with the eyes of love,
to see all that is in us that is loving,
and all that is not loving.
By the grace you show us in Christ,
forgive us, heal us, and perfect your love in us.
God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
[Silent prayer … The Word of Grace]

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
Leader: Rejoice, for God has mercy upon us in our sin, and holds us close to God’s heart.
All: O you who answer prayer! To you we turn our hearts.
Now we are the Body of Christ, and each of us is a member of it.
It is no longer we, but Christ who lives in us. To you we surrender our lives.
God has poured out the Holy Spirit upon us.
God of love, we receive your Spirit and its gifts, for the sake of the world.
There is one Spirit but many gifts, many ways in which we are precious to God.
Beloved, by your Spirit in us, help us to forget ourselves and look to your grace,
to see and to put into service your gifts in us, for service to the world,
in the name and the grace and the companionship of Christ. Amen.


2.
      We give our hearts to you, O God, creator of all that is and all that is to come. You made all things by your Word, and declared them good. You breathed your Spirit into all humans and declared them very good.
     We give our hearts to you, O Christ, Living Word of God, love made flesh. You taught and healed, and brought people out of the prisons of judgment into the mystery of love. You announced the Reign of God among us, and you gave your life in compassion and forgiveness. God raised you from the dead, and you live among us still, awakening us, calling us to love.
      We give our hearts to you, O Holy Spirit: you make us one body in Christ, your Church. You give each of us gifts which are precious for the mending of the world. We serve by your grace, trusting in the power of love. We open our hearts to your grace to transform us. We devote our lives to you, that we may continually love you and love our neighbors more deeply, in the name of Christ, for the sake of the healing of the world. Amen.

Listening Prayer

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

Jesus, Beloved,
have mercy on me,
a sinner.
Jesus, Beloved,
have mercy on me,
a sinner.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. You have poured your Holy Spirit into us; now pour us out into the world as the embodiment of your love. We pray, as we serve, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)


God, Be Merciful to Me (Original song)

God, be merciful to me.
With empty hands and open,
I turn to you for mercy.


Heart of Heaven (Original song)

There’s a heart in heaven that knows you,
and speaks your name in love from heaven’s throne,
that has laughed and labored here beside you,
and says, “I know your journey as my own.”

There are eyes in heaven that adore you,
and weep with joy at the beauty of your soul,
for they see the courage of your living,
and share your deepest yearnings to be whole.

There’s a tear in heaven that remembers,
there’s a deep, weary sigh that understands;
there are gentle, wounded hands that know the struggle
to do the work of God with human hands.

There’s a voice from heaven within you,
a spring of life-giving water flowing free.
Let it flow, let grace and peace shine in you
with heaven’s loveliness for all to see.

Oh, the heart of heaven is within you,
the universe embraces you in love,
for the humble One who walks beside you
is the One who rules the sun and stars above.