Hymns and Lessons for Proper 23 (Cycle C)

In all three of this week’s readings from Scripture, I am struck by how compassionate and generous God is with those who absolutely have no claim on him! First God is so generous and compassionate to Ruth, the Moabite woman who became the great-grandmother of David and is one of only four women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. Then God is unbelievably faithful, no matter how faithless we are “for He cannot deny Himself.” And finally we hear again the well-known story of the 10 lepers who were healed — even though only one came back to thank Him. It is God’s nature to love His creation and desire the salvation of all humankind.

Those of you who are subscribers to my blog will need to click on the title of the blog to hear and see the YouTube videos of this week’s hymns.

The Processional Hymn is Praise to the Lord, the Almighty: (This hymn is especially dear to Mike’s and my heart as it was the Processional at our wedding.) (The art isn’t exactly my taste, but the organ is wonderful and the words are exactly what we sing.

The Prayer of the Day used to be called the “Collect”. Every week, this wonderful prayer collects our hearts and imaginations around the “worship theme of the day.” Ideally, this theme will be reflected in the hymns and lessons. Today we pray: “Almighty God, You show mercy to Your peoples in all their troubles. Grant us always to recognize Your goodness, give thanks for Your compassion, and praise Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” If you guessed that this week’s worship would be focusing on the goodness and compassion of our Lord, you would be right.

The Old Testament Reading this week is Ruth 1:1-19a. When you think carefully about this story, it staggers you. Naomi and her husband Elimelech leave Israel for the country of Moab, along with their two sons Mahlon and Chilion. Not only do they go to Moab, they allow their sons to marry Moabite women. This was probably not such a devout Israelite family! The history of the land of Moab is filled with immorality, seduction, lust and incest. Throughout the Old Testament, the people of Moab tried to find every opportunity to destroy the Israelites and to draw them away from worshiping Yahweh, the True God who had revealed Himself to Moses. The Moabites were so terrible, God Himself banished all Moabites from His congregation forever back in the days of the judges (Numbers 22-25. Deuteronomy 23:3-6, and Revelation 2:14.). But right in the middle of this terrible story, we find “Ruth the Moabitess”. Not only does she end up coming back to Israel with Naomi, but she marries a prominent Hebrew, becomes the great-grandmother of David the King, and becomes a direct ancestor of Jesus Matthew 1:5). Why did God allow this when He Himself banished all Moabites from the congregation? Surely Ruth posed as great a danger to the welfare of the people of Israel as the rest of the Moabites! So why wasn’t she condemned with the rest of them? Because once she had forsaken her people and her gods and had unconditionally clung to the Lord and His people, God graciously received her, removed the curse that had hung over her, and used her as if she had always been an Israelite. It was as though her past and her ancestry did not exist — which is exactly how God receives everyone who turns to Him, turns their backs on their idols, and their past. He receives us unreservedly and blesses us as He did Ruth who had done nothing to deserve it — except turn to Him.

The Psalm is Psalm 111. Possibly this psalm is the one the 10th leper was singing when He came back to thank Jesus for the healing Jesus had given all ten of the lepers. “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation … He sent redemption to His people. He commanded His covenant forever, holy and awesome is His Name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; those who act accordingly have a good understanding. His Praise endures forever.”

The Epistle is 2 Timothy 2:1-13. In this reading, Paul tells Timothy that the Christian life is a marathon and that we all have to learn to endure by the grace of God. Paul uses three simple but powerful images that show Timothy (and us) how to endure: the image of the soldier, the image of the athlete, and the image of the farmer. In this passage Paul is saying “Be clothed with inward strength by the grace of Christ” or “Be strong in the grace that is ours in union with Christ Jesus.” Endure by the strength and power of God. We tend to be better at trusting in WORKS than at trusting in GRACE; we expect that God is like everyone else we know and that the way to win HIS approval is through what we DO. (Be a soldier, be an athlete, be a farmer. God will love you!) And yet God loves us without any of us deserving it; God didn’t save us because “He knew the end from the beginning” and so saved us retroactively because He knew that one day we would deserve it. NO! Endurance doesn’t come by our own grit any more that we could save ourselves. Our endurance is not us pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. It’s something Christ does through us. We are strong in the grace that is ours in union with Christ Jesus. We can endure like the soldier, the athlete, the farmer only in union with Christ . We don’t deserve it — and sometimes we fail miserably. But in the last sentence of today’s second lesson, St. Paul reminds us, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful. He cannot deny himself.” It is God’s nature to have compassion. (So love Him back and endure!)

The Gospel is the well-known Luke 17:11-19. This Holy Gospel about the cleansing of the lepers, happens to be the assigned Gospel for the Day of Thanksgiving. In this Gospel, we are shown how God reacts to people in a state of distress, a state of misery. The good Lord looks down on all the afflictions that come our way, and he acts to relieve our distress. He supplies our needs, both physical and spiritual. He has compassion on us. He helps us. That’s because He loves us. Jesus healed them and told them to go show themselves to the priests — which would show the priests that God Himself had come among them, because who else could cure leprosy? Leprosy was utterly incurable until the last century. Even if the priests won’t believe in Jesus, surely the other lepers will get the message and make the connection. So the ten head off as Jesus had told them to do. Except for one of them … who turns around and comes back … what’s up with that? Well, as a Samaritan, this healed man can’t do what Jesus told him to do because the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. This healed man couldn’t go to the priests in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, he goes to The Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Filled with gratitude and faith in this Jesus, the healed Samaritan comes running back to Jesus, to give thanks to God. And Jesus is our Great High Priest who intercedes for us with God the Father. He offers up the perfect sacrifice, the once-and-for-all sacrifice, to cleanse us from our uncleanness, to heal us body and soul by offering Himself there in our place, up on the cross. Jesus has bridged the gap between us and God. Our sins had separated us. Jesus restores us. The priestly sacrifice that Jesus offers is complete and perfect. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all our sins — a cleansing that becomes real for us in Baptism, which unites us to Christ’s perfect sacrifice for us.

The Hymn of the Day is Baptized in Water:

The Distribution Hymn is Sing Praise to God, the Highest Good:

The Recessional Hymn is O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing:

These are great lessons and wonderful hymns. I look forward to worshiping with you this week.

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