15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 25, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Ezek. 18:1-4, 25-32; Ps. 25:1-9; Phil. 2:1-13; Matt. 21:23-32
We enjoyed a retreat this week with staff in the region. Each country team shared pictures and stories of their work and, together, we set goals for the coming year. We also had time to play games and watch movies together. The annual variety show uncovered new talent and included impromptu Dead Sea mud facials for three staff members.
Another highlight was a trip to Holy Land Institute, where service worker Brent Stutzman described his work with deaf-blind students.
In the region this week Iran released two U.S. hikers that have been held for more than two years on charges of spying. The hikers say they accidentally strayed into Iranian territory while hiking in northeastern Iraq, where the border with Iran is porous.
In spite of stiff opposition from the United States and Israel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted a formal bid for full U.N. membership of a Palestinian State. Reaction in the region is mixed and there have already been confrontations between Palestinian protestors and Israeli settlers and police.
All Palestinians believe the Israeli occupation must end and that something needs to happen to change the status quo dynamics of the so called “peace process.” But some fear that the Palestinian bid at the U.N. won’t make any actual differences on the ground and that the right of return for refugees may be lost in this process. MCC partners such as Bethlehem Bible College, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Center (2 statements) and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions all issued statements.
The Common Lectionary readings this week remind us to walk humbly with God.
Through the prophet Ezekiel, God commands: “Cast away from you all the transgressions you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” (Ezek. 18:31)
“God leads the humble in what is right,” writes the psalmist, “and teaches the humble his way.” (Ps. 25:9). In this humble spirit, the psalmist prays, “Make me to know your ways . . . teach me your paths . . . lead me in your truth.” (vv.4-5a)
In the Epistle reading, Paul calls us to pattern our lives after Christ who “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:8) It is through such humble servants that God is at work, enabling us to “will and to work for God’s good pleasure.” (v.13)
In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about a father who asks his two sons to work in the vineyard. (Matt. 21:28-32) The first says that he will not, but later changes his mind and does. The second promises to do the work but then does not. It is those who humble themselves to do God’s will that are part of God’s kingdom, Jesus concludes.
It is a volatile time for the region. There is both anticipation and fear. Across the world political leaders pursue their own narrow national interests – which are often not the interests of the most vulnerable people. In this mix, the Common Lectionary readings call us to walk humbly with God — seeking to have a new heart and spirit, faithfully living out the signs of God’s kingdom, and working for God’s good pleasure.