OT 16: 8th Sunday after Pentecost

July 23, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Genesis 28. 10-19. Jacob dreams of a ladder to heaven. When he awakes he says, “Surely God was in this place and I—I did not know.”

Psalm 139. God is present everywhere and aware of us and participating in our lives, no matter where we are or in what condition.

Romans 8.12-25. It is the Spirit that enables us to connect with God. All creation waits for redemption, longing for our connection as God’s children.

Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43. The parable of weeds among wheat, and an explanation.

Preaching Thoughts

      The angels are going up and down, not down and up. As if they’re from here. I think of the moment at the crucifixion when “the curtain in the Holy of Holies is torn in two, top to bottom.” The veil between heaven and earth is removed. The world of the unseen, the world of grace, is always communicating with the visible world. Think of it not so much as higher and lower but inner and outer.
     Jacob awakes and says, “Surely God is in this place and I—I did not know.” It’s about how God is present even though we don’t know it. In Exodus 33.23 God says to Moses, ”I’ll let you see me, but only from behind.” “Behind” doesn’t so much mean “God’s backside” as “afterward.” We tend to see God going, not coming. God invites us to awaken, to become attentive to God in the present moment. God is here, even in evil things. As Joseph says to his brothers when they are eventually reunited, “You meant it for harm but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50.20). God is here, even when we feel abandoned. When Jesus cries “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” it’s not an expression of despair: he’s quoting Psalm 22, which trusts God’s presence even in situations when we feel abandoned.      The “I” in Hebrew is repeated. As if Jacob is saying “My ‘I’ didn’t know.” My ego, my analytical, dualistic, self-centered consciousness can’t connect with God. Only my soul can. Only non-dualistic Presence can discern God. And maybe Jacob is saying “My self I didn’t know.” I didn’t know myself. I am under illusion about who I am. Only God can reveal that to me. As if Jacob has seen himself in relation to Esau, to his place in his family, not in relation to God…

Any sentence in this dense passage is worthy of a sermon.
     • “If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The “deeds of the body” are ways we act as if we are contained and defined by our bodies: our pwn private physical survival. This doesn’t mean we should think poorly of our bodies or be cruel to them. It means we are truly alive only when we honor our deep interconnection to all other people and beings in the Spirit.
     • “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” We aren’t people on trial before a demanding judge; we’re children of a loving parent.
     • “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” Ours is not a fear-based religion. Fear is precisely what we’re set free from.
     • “We are joint heirs with Christ—if we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” We don’t earn anything. We inherit it. Faith is a mixed bag, neither all glory and privilege nor all suffering, but accompanying Christ in the fullness of life.
     • “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed.” This isn’t pie in the sky. The glory is not in the future, but right now; it’s just that we can’t see it yet. We’re one little bit of the great picture of God’s story. Only afterward will we be able to see the whole thing and how we fit in.
     • “Creation has been groaning in labor pains.” God’s work is to bring abundant life and wholeness—including everything, even all Creation. Creation shares our longing for wholeness. (Notice how Paul uses many metaphors for faith, including being born, giving birth, and being adopted.)
     • “We wait for adoption.” I think we’re already adopted. There’s nothing unfinished in God’s claim of us as God’s beloved. But maybe Paul is thinking of a future time “when all things are revealed,” when later on we come to see everything more clearly. Maybe it’s like we’ve already been adopted, but the paperwork hasn’t arrived yet? So we hope. As in:
     • “We hope for what we do not see; we wait for it with patience.” Hope is not wishing about the future but trust in what is already present even though we can’t see it. I hope the sun will rise tomorrow because I know it’s already rising.

Again, be wary of an “explanation” of a parable. A parable isn’t just a rebus with a certain picture standing in for a particular idea. It’s a mystery, open to many ways and angles of interpretation. Maybe this one is about how we shouldn’t judge people but let God sort it out later. Maybe it’s about how we shouldn’t judge our own lives and how mixed they are. Maybe it’s about how God will not destroy us even when there’s evil in our lives. Maybe it’s about how the evil in our lives isn’t solely our own fault—an enemy has done this! After all, we’re subject to the wounds and attitudes we were given as children. Maybe it’s about not judging things in our lives that we don’t like: maybe they’re more mixed, with some valuable aspects, than we realize at the time. It’s definitely about not judging other people. The “weeds” and “wheat” are not necessarily other individuals, but both are the fruitful and unfruitful aspects of my own life. And, who knows? Sometimes what we think of as bad may actually be fruitful in God’s eyes. Notice that what’s thrown in the furnace of fire (v. 41) are the causes of sin.

Call to Worship

Leader: Creator God, you are in this place.
All: God of light and dark, God of word and Silence, you are in this place.
Saving God, guiding God, you are in this place.
God within us, you are in this place.
We greet you! We thank you.
We worship you. Open our hearts to your presence, now and always.

Leader: Loving God, Infinite parent, you birth us and claim us.
All: We are in awe, and we praise you.
Gentle Christ, you love us and walk beside us.
We are made new, and we thank you.
Holy Spirit, you breathe your life into us and re-create us each moment.
We are your children, and we live in your love.
We worship with praise and thanksgiving.

Leader: Gracious God, you are present in this place, in this time.
All: You are present in our lives, in every moment.
Open our eyes to be present to you,
to be mindful in this and every moment
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

4. [Psalm 139. 7-12]
Leader: O God, where could we go from your Spirit?
All: Where could we escape your presence?
If we rise above the earth, there you are!
If we make my bed in the grave, there you are!
If we take the wings of the morning and fly to the farthest sea,
even there your hand will lead us, and in your gentle arms you will hold us.

We could say, “Let the night cover us, and everything about us be total darkness,”
but even the darkness is not dark to you: the night is bright like the day,
and with you even the darkness is light.
In your light, Lord, we turn to you.
In your presence, we worship.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

God of grace, surely you are in this place. Open the eyes and ears of our hearts. As we breathe in and out, you are around and within us. Open the depths of our souls. May we be present to you, who are so infinitely present for us. Amen.

God of glory, Lord of Mystery, Jacob dreamed of the angelic ladder bridging heaven and earth. We stand upon that ladder now, your Presence ascending and descending as we hear your Word and respond. Bless us, who stand always at the gate of heaven, that we may be mindful, and grateful. Speak to us, God, your living Word. Amen.

Gracious God, in our lives we hear so much chatter, so many voices. Help us to winnow out the good wheat from the weeds, the truth from the noise. Grant us your Spirit, so that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear with gladness what you are saying to us today. Amen.

Holy God, Infinite Love, Intimate Lover, Faithful One, we come from you. We rest in you. We listen for you. Open our hearts to your presence. Open our ears to your Word. Open our arms to your children. Open our future to your grace. Amen.

Listening Prayer

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

Loving God, we are not dreaming.
You are in this place.
Your grace passes between this world
and your heart.
We open ourselves to the mystery of your presence.

Prayer of Confession

God of love, you have been present for us
and we did not know it;
we did not act as if you were there,
as if you loved us, as if we cared.
By the grace we know in Christ,
awaken us, forgive us, heal our fear,
and renew your Spirit in us. Amen.

Pastor: God of love, in our lives there is wheat,
beautiful and blessed, and a gift from you.
We recall those moments when your grace was fruitful
in our lives and we give thanks as we hold them before you.
In our lives there are also weeds, ugly and unfruitful,
that choke out the goodness.
Trusting your grace, we recall those moments,
and we hold them before you.
God of grace, gather in your harvest,
separate out what is good in us and what is not,
that our lives may bear fruit
for you and for the world.
All: In the grace we know in Christ,
receive us, forgive us, heal us,
and renew your Spirit in us
as your beloved children. Amen.


Psalm 139 — a paraphrase

O Holy One, you see me from the inside out.
         You know me better than I do.
You take every step with me;
       you have already walked all my journeys.
Even before I speak
         you know my thoughts.
You are around me and within me;
         I feel your hand on my back.
I can’t imagine the greatness of your love;
         I can only trust it.
                                            God, for your love, I pray…
Where could I go from your presence?
         In outer space, at the core of the earth—there you are.
If I ran away to the farthest place,
         you would be with me all the way.
I could try to hide in perfect darkness
         but to you the darkness is light.
                                            God, for your light, I pray…
You formed me before I was born;
         you made me by hand in secret.
I praise you, for you are wonderful!
         For I am wonderfully, awesomely made.
How amazing is your wisdom, O God,
         how infinite your presence.
When I try to comprehend, you are beyond my understanding.
         But when I simply become aware—here you are.
Search through me, O God, and know my heart.
         Root out what is unloving, and lead me in your life-giving way.
                                            God, for your way, I pray…

Response / Creed / Affirmation

        We love you, God, infinite creator of all that is, and we rejoice that we are your children. We come from you; we are born of your love. You create us as living images of you and your grace.
        We follow you, Jesus, Christ of God, Word made flesh, love made real. You healed and taught. You welcomed and blessed all God’s children. You included all people as siblings. You included the outcast, the wounded, the children. For your love and courage you were crucified; but in love God raised you from the dead. You live among us, calling, guiding, blessing.
         Holy Spirit, we live by your grace. Born of God, adopted by God, blessed by God, we live by your life and power in us. You lead us to live lives of love and courage, to bless all our siblings, to live together as children of God in harmony and joy,
        We give thanks to you, O God, and promise to live as children of your love. Amen.

Suggested Songs

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

Child of God (Original song)

I’m a child, a child of God,
God’s beloved in whom God is pleased.
I will live in the peace of God.

You’re a child…

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