Lectionary Readings for September 11, 2023
The lectionary readings for this Sunday, September 11, show how repentance is the bridge we must travel from our sinfulness to God’s mercy. These themes are explored in four different contexts, starting with a story of God’s wrath and ending with a story of God’s infinite patience and love.
The first reading is Exodus 32:7-14. Moses and God are communing on the holy mountain while Moses’ people, feeling abandoned because Moses has been away from them too long, make an idol to worship. God tells Moses that He will turn His wrath on these stubborn people and destroy them, but Moses pleads with God to remember His promise to Abraham to make His people as numerous as the stars.
The reading in Psalm 51:1-10 changes the focus from the sin of a whole people to the sin of an individual. The psalmist looks within himself, and opens his prayer by asking, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love.” At the end of this reading come these beautiful words which we love to sing: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
The New Testament selection from 1Timothy 1:12-17 returns to the issue of community sin, but in a way that highlights the individual sin of each community member. Paul says that he himself was shown mercy so that he could be a living reminder of Christ’s “unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him.” No one can exalt their own efforts towards purity and good conscience. “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.”
The Gospel reading is Luke 15:1-10, the beloved parable of the shepherd seeking his one lost sheep even though he has ninety-nine safe in the sheepfold. Jesus tells this story in response to criticism of his association with tax collectors and others publicly known as sinners. “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
In contrast to God’s fierce interview with Moses on the mountain, Jesus tells the good news of God seeking not to destroy, but to save. This God no longer is quick to anger.
These four readings are like the facets of a jewel. Each shows us something different about sin and repentance. There are times when an entire community needs to repent, times when an individual should pray for a pure heart, times when one person’s public repentance serves as an example to many, and times when God lovingly seeks to rescue one lost sinner. What facet of the jewel reflects the light for you today?
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.