Weekly Introduction to the Readings from the Revised Common Lectionary (Proper 21B; Ordinary 26B)

Numbers 11:4-6, 19-16, 24-29

Numbers 11 records one of the so-called “murmuring stories.”  Murmuring stories record times when the Israelites complain to Moses and to God because they feel not provided for in the wilderness.  The complaint found in our text (a complaint about a lack of meat to eat) is similar to a complaint made in Exodus 16.   What is interesting is that the complaint in Numbers 11 brings forth a much different answer from God.  Whereas in the Exodus account God has pity on the complaining desert wanderers in Numbers the complaints are met with fire sent down by God to consume the out skirts of the camp.  This reminds us that our faithful laments can, in time, become rebellious murmuring.  The former solicits grace, the latter calls forth judgment.

Our first lesson also records the appointment of seventy elders to help Moses in his task of leading the people.  These elders are called to the tent of meeting where they receive a portion of the Spirit given to Moses.  However, as the Spirit if apt to do, the Spirit overflows the elders that were gathered and lands on Medad and Eldad, two Israelites who were back at the Israelite camp.  Medad and Eldad begin to prophesy making Joshua nervous.  Moses however is not alarmed and exclaims, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”  The story reminds us of God’s sovereignty in pouring out his Spirit on all flesh.  We cannot direct the Spirit.  The Spirit goes where the Spirit wills.

Psalm 19:7-14

Our Psalm lection is what is sometimes referred to as a “Torah Psalm”–or a psalm in praise of the law of the Lord (for another example see Psalm 119).  Interestingly Psalm 19 asks God to forgive the Psalmist for “hidden faults” that the Psalmist is blind to.  In conclusion the Psalmist writes, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer.”  This Psalm is a fitting response to the first lesson in that often our complaints “the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts” are so a part of who we are that they are hidden to us.  Our ungratefulness for God’s bountiful blessing is shown over and over again in our insatiable appetites and relentless complaining and yet we hardly notice the words and the thoughts leaving our mouths.

James 5:13-20

Our last reading from the book of James (the lectionary has been in the book of James for the past five weeks) offers the proper responses for Christians in different circumstances in life.  Of special note is the power of prayer.  Prayer is used on behalf of those who suffer, on behalf of those who are sick, and for confession.  James concludes his admonition of the prayerful life by saying, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

Mark 9:38-50

Jesus is now heading to Jerusalem to meet the cross.  On the way his disciples witness others casting out demons in “Jesus’ name.”  They immediately are indignant and want Jesus to put an end to it.  Jesus instructs them that “Whoever is not against us is for us.” This story corresponds well to the acceptance of Eldad and Medad by Moses in the first lesson.

Jesus then follows this instruction by teaching a number of important (although not entirely related) short lessons: (1) the person who gives a cup of water to help the mission of Christ will by no means go unrewarded, (2) do not cause children to stumble, (3) take sin seriously (to the point of removing the sinful member from your body [foot, hand, eye]), (4) do not lose your saltiness (for what good is salt without its saltiness), and (5) be at peace with each other.

Celebration of worship

There are a number of themes to choose from this Sunday as you prepare your hearts, thoughts, prayers, and hymns for service.  Each of the lessons have multiple parts.  In many ways, from a worship planning standpoint, this is a difficult week.  Because of this I am going to split and group the readings together in order to emphasize two themes present amongst them.  (1) God’s work is expansive, and it happens even in places we never imagine or expect, amongst people that we never thought would be on God’s agenda.  (2) Our words, thoughts, and the meditations of our heart, are important to God.  We often flippantly think and share thoughts that show our ingratitude for God’s bountiful blessings.  In your preparation for worship consider the great expansive work of God.  When was there a time that God surprised you in how God works in the world?  Consider the way we often complain about God’s lack of attention and provision–yet still his spirit fills to overflowing, busting out into the camp from the tent of meeting.  How is it that we have come to be so ungrateful?

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