Worship Resources for June 11, 2023—Second Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 12:1-9 and Psalm 33:1-12; Hosea 5:15-6:6 and Psalm 50:7-15; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Isaiah, Isaiah 9:1-7 (John 8:12)

In the season after Pentecost, the Revised Common Lectionary contains two choices for the Hebrew Scriptures and Psalms—one selection that is semicontinuous, and a second selection that pairs with the Gospel reading. The semicontinuous readings for year B follow the ancestors of the faith in Genesis and Exodus, from a family to a nation, through enslavement to freedom.

We begin with Genesis 12:1-9, the call of Abram and Sarai. The two had traveled from Ur to Haran with Abram’s father Terah and family, but now God spoke to Abram and Sarai and called them with a promise that they would be the ancestors of a great nation. Abram, Sarai, and Abram’s nephew Lot set out to Canaan, and along the way, Abram built altars to sacrifice to God, first at the oak of Moreh in Shechem, then in the hill country east of Bethel. They journeyed via states through Canaan to the Negev, the desert land south of Canaan, and they knew the same God who called them was with them on their journey.

Psalm 33:1-12 is a song of praise to God for God’s faithfulness and sings of God’s love for those who are faithful. God’s steadfast love is made known to the world through God’s acts of creation. God’s voice is known because with it, God creates. For the nations that choose God, they are blessed and content. For those who choose their own way, God frustrates their plans. Those who know God are in awe of God, for God’s works in creation and God’s righteousness and justice.

The prophet Hosea doesn’t mince words in 5:15-6:6. Hosea, writing as the northern kingdom of Israel was about to be invaded by Assyria, lived out the metaphor of Israel’s unfaithfulness in his own marriage. The people of Israel have turned to other nations, other gods, and have forsaken God’s ways. God has stopped intervening and instead waits for the people to turn back. God knows the people will only turn to God when everything has become bad enough for them to remember God is there. However, God is tired of their empty rituals and their assumption that they can turn back to God as a last resort. God desires their love and faithfulness in relationship, not their sacrifices and performative repentance.

Psalm 50:7-15 contains a rebuke for those who are religiously pious for appearance’s sake. The people are continually offering sacrifices but also repeatedly turning away from God. God instead desires true worship. God knows all the creatures of the earth and air, for God made them, so why sacrifice them? God suggests a sacrifice of thanksgiving—instead of depending on God to response with mercy, offer God thanksgiving for all God has already done, for God will deliver the people.

The Epistle readings begin a series in Romans this season after Pentecost, overlapping some with the readings from Lent. Paul wrote to the church in Rome to introduce himself and his theology of understanding that in Christ, Jews and Gentiles were now one people. For the Gentile believers, Paul wanted them to accept their Jewish neighbors, including those who didn’t follow Jesus, because Jewish believers in Jesus were still tied culturally to their Jewish neighbors. For Jewish Christians, Paul wanted them to accept their Gentile neighbors even though they had different social customs and opinions. In 4:13-25, Paul argues that it is not the law that brings faith. Abraham was the ancestor of all nations, and it was his faith that was reckoned to him as righteousness, not the acts of the law. The law does not bring faith, Paul argues, so for Jewish Christians it is faith in Jesus that saves. This save faith is available for Gentiles without living under the law, for those who believe that Jesus is raised from the dead, for Christ was raised for the justification of all.

Jesus is among “unclean people” in Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26. Jesus called a tax collector to follow him, and the tax collector invited Jesus to his home to eat with him and some other tax collectors and “sinners.” Jesus was questioned by some of the religious authorities as to why he was eating with them. We need to understand that ritual purity was not something usually bothered with on a daily basis, it only came into play if one was to enter the temple or participate in religious practice. Nonetheless, the Pharisees were generally more interested in maintaining religious purity even outside the temple, and because Jesus had much in common with them, when they disagreed, they disagreed pretty strongly. Tax collectors worked for the Roman Empire and were seen as participating in their own people’s oppression. Sinners might be anyone who was either ritually impure or those who might also be seen as helping the oppressors. Jesus responds that he came not for the righteous—not for those who are already living rightly under God—but for sinners. Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but those who are sick, do. Those who must survive by working for their oppressors are the ones who need God’s love and mercy.

Skipping ahead to verse 18, after Jesus had dinner with the tax collectors and sinners, a leader of the synagogue came to him, for the man’s daughter had died but he believed that if Jesus laid his hand on her, she would live. While on the way to see the little girl, Jesus was touched by a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. Jesus told her that her faith made her well. When he arrived at the girl’s home, the funeral has already begun but Jesus explained she was not dead, only sleeping. He took her by the hand, and she got up. Jesus, being touched by the woman bleeding and by touching the dead girl, should have been considered unclean himself, but the woman with the hemorrhage was healed and the dead girl brought back to life. By faith they were healed, and laws around ritual purity were circumvented. Again, Jesus’s actions seem to only offend certain religious leaders of the Pharisees, not the entire community, probably because Jesus interacted more with the Pharisees than other groups.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its series in Isaiah, with 9:1-7. This passage, often quoted by Christians in Advent, is the prophecy associated with the newborn king, one who would not be corrupt and would lead the people as David once did. Hezekiah, born in Judah, was the hoped-for king who would bring about a reign of peace after the northern kingdom of Israel (especially the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali) had been taken into exile by Assyria. The first prophet called Isaiah had witnessed the destruction himself. Assyria had attacked Jerusalem, but had not prevailed, and the prophet found hope in the next king. Using the imagery of darkness and light, Isaiah believes the destructive past is over and a new day has begun. Six hundred years later, Christians found resonance in this passage, in the hope of Jesus as the Messiah.

The supplementary verse of John 8:12 reminds us that Jesus has come as a light into the world. By following him, we will know eternal life, a flame never extinguished.

The theme of faithfulness appears through all these scriptures: God’s enduring faithfulness through all generations, and our own faithfulness to God, though our faithfulness is sometimes circumspect. God made a promise to our ancestors Abram and Sarai and they believed in that promise (most of the time), enough to travel far away from their family with hope for their future generations. The prophet Hosea was skeptical of the people of Israel’s faithfulness because all he saw were people responding out of desperation for the situation they had made, instead of responding to God’s faithfulness first in gratitude. Paul wrote of Abraham’s faithfulness to God without the need of the law. Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel account experiences the faithfulness of both a powerless woman and a leader in the synagogue—a reminder that not all the religious leaders opposed Jesus. In the Narrative Lectionary, Isaiah shares God’s faithfulness through the birth of Hezekiah, the promise of a new king.

God’s promises lead to life, and life eternal. The ways of the world that we have made—worldly power, greed, notoriety, even worldly acceptance—they lead us away from God. Hosea warned that those who only turn to faith in false pretenses, as sort of a back-up option when things get really bad as a last desperate attempt—will find that it may be too late. God may not intervene in worldly situations. Nonetheless, God promises that we will not be alone. God promises there will always be a new start. We may have to live through the consequences of our own actions, but God’s promises to our ancestors endure in us—God will always do a new thing. Christ is a flame that cannot be extinguished. The Spirit will continue to work good in the world and in us. God’s faithfulness endures forever.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 33:1, 3a, 4-5, 21)
All you who are righteous,
Shout joyfully to the Lord!
It is right for those who do right to praise God.
Sing to God a new song!
Because the Lord’s word is right,
Every act of God is done in good faith.
God loves righteousness and justice,
God’s faithful love fills the whole earth.
Our heart rejoices in God,
Because we trust God’s holy name.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Everlasting God, we confess that we are a fickle people. We demand that You save us. We cry out to You in our distress. Yet the moment we have comfort, the moment the storm we have faced is gone, we go back to our old, selfish ways. Like Your people, having been delivered from Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, we complain the moment things aren’t as we want them to be. Turn our hearts toward gratitude, O Faithful One. Remind us of how You have led us thus far and will continue to guide us through this life. Keep our hearts to Your steadfast love, not out of fear, but out of hope and gratitude. Guide us in Your ways of loving our neighbor as ourselves and in our love for one another may we have gratitude for all we have. You are a God of abundant love; may we be reminded of Your abundance in our lives, especially in this moments when life is difficult, when it feels we do not have enough. May the love of our neighbors overwhelm us and remind us of Your great love for us, and may we be called to share that love, building up Your Beloved Community on earth as it is in heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ, who laid down everything for us that we might have life, we pray. Amen.

The Faithful One is with us, now and always. There is no place we can hide, no place we can fade away, where God will not know us. God is beside us in the valleys of shadow and in the pastures of rest and safety. In gratitude, may we accept God’s forgiveness and grant others the same. In hope, may we love one another and know that we are loved. In mercy, may we repair and restore what has been broken so that others might help to repair and restore us when we are ready to fall apart. Beloveds, let us love one another. Amen.

Spirit of Life, help us to slow down and pause in awe and wonder at all You have done for us. The blades of grass under our feet. The dandelions that continue to grow back and bring forth seed. The green leaves above us, the blue sky that at times seems endless. May we breathe deep of Your love and grace and peace in our lives. May we stop for a moment and remember that You are the Creator of everything, down to the particles that make up the atoms that make us, all the way to the distant galaxies we can barely glimpse from a telescope. In Your magnificence, You somehow decided to make us in Your image and make us so that we might know just a fraction of who You are, our Wondrous Maker. If we can pause for a moment to be in awe of You, perhaps in that pause we can be filled with Your love for all the earth, all the creatures You have made, and all our siblings in humanity. In that pause, may we put down our weapons. May we turn our anger to the pursuit of love and justice. May we remember that all of us are here for only a blink of time, and may we hold on to that blink that is holy and precious by our willingness to give up the things of the world we have made, in order to cling to You and Your love. In the name of Christ, who laid it all down, everything of the world made by human beings, to show us Your love, Your truth, and Your life, we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for June 4, 2023—Trinity Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Narrative Lectionary: Series on Isaiah, Isaiah 6:1-8 (Luke 5:8-10)

On Trinity Sunday, we begin with the first story of Creation in Genesis, where God refers to themselves in the plural, creating everything, including all of humanity. There is a sense of equality and equilibrium in God’s intentions for creation, and that humanity’s dominion over the earth is mirrored in God’s dominion over everything, for in the image of God, God created humanity. Even with the creation of sabbath, there is a balance of work and rest. Light and dark, sky and water, dry earth and plants, sun and moon/stars, creatures of the water and creatures of the sky, then creatures of the land and human beings. The work of creation also happens when resting and finding joy in it. While the primary focus of God in this text is of God the Creator, there is also the wind from God that swept over the waters, often thought of as the Holy Spirit. And perhaps in creating humanity in the image of God, as Christians, we can imagine Christ present already (John 1:1-5; see also Proverbs 8:22-31 for Wisdom’s presence at the beginning of creation).

Psalm 8 is a song of praise to God, a song full of wisdom in asking the ancient question, “who are we compared to almighty God?” The psalmist looked up at the stars and asked the same question we often do—in the vastness of the universe, what are human beings? Yet God has made us a little lower than divine. God has given us dominion over the earth the way God has dominion over us. If we are to “fear God”—which is better understood as trembling awe—then we will do our very best in caring for creation the way God cares for us. God is Sovereign over all the earth.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 are the final verses of this letter, in which Paul encourages the church in Corinth to listen to what he has said, especially on the financial appeal for the church in Jerusalem, and to live in peace. His final benediction also includes one of the few instances of Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit listed together in a blessing, fitting for this Trinity Sunday.

The Gospel lesson is known as the Great Commission, the final message from Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew. Even as the disciples experienced the risen Christ, some doubted, yet Jesus called all of them to go into the world and make disciples. Disciple means student. They, and we, are to go into the world to teach everything that Jesus taught us. Far too often that message has been simplified into a message of being saved from sin and hell for eternal life, rather than how we are to live in this world—as last of all, servant of all, working as peacemakers, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and so on. Jesus taught them to baptize in the name of God the Father/Creator, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to remember that he is always with us, until the end of time.

The Narrative Lectionary begins a new series in Isaiah. In Isaiah 6:1-8, in the year King Uzziah died, the prophet experiences a vision of God in the heavenly throne room. In this vision Isaiah beholds the seraphs praising God and the throne room filled with smoke from the altar, and Isaiah knows as a mortal he is unworthy to witness such a vision. But in the metaphor of unclean lips, a seraph takes a live coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips to purify them. Isaiah is told that his sin is blotted out, and when God asks, “Who will go for us? Whom shall I send?” Isaiah boldly answers, “Here am I, send me!”

In the supplemental verses of Luke 5:8-10, as Jesus calls the first disciples, in this account there is a miraculous catch of fish, and Simon Peter tells Jesus to go away because he is a sinful man. However, Jesus tells him, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.” God uses those who feel they are unworthy and impure to do holy work.

On Trinity Sunday we remember that as Christians we have spoken of the relationship of God with the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ as triune. However, our Orthodox siblings might remind us that the Trinity is a mystery—this is not something we can truly comprehend. Just like the psalmist gazing up at the stars, who are we in comparison to the awe-inspiring Creator of us all? We who have but a glimpse of the vastness of the universe, how dare we think we could understand all of God? Yet God has made us a little lower than divine, with great responsibility over the earth. God made us, along with everything, because God desires us to live. In that life, God desires for us to have rest and joy. What the world has become is far from what God intended it to be, but Jesus has called us to teach others about God’s intentions for us. This is the Great Commission for us: never to make clones of ourselves, but always to make disciples, teaching by our own lives, the way Jesus lived and taught. This is the way.

Call to Worship
Architect of the universe, Creator of heaven and earth,
We join together in awe and wonder to praise Your name.
Spirit of Life, breathing life into all and moving us to justice,
We worship as one body with many gifts of use to the world.
Jesus Christ, the True Son, who lived and died and lives again for us,
We follow Your way, Your truth, and Your life as disciples.
Holy God, Blessed Three-In-One,
Though we do not fully understand, we trust in You,
And worship, follow, and join with You on this journey of faith.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy God, we confess that we continue to try to put You in a box when You constantly show us Your love cannot be contained. We confess that we try to put borders on Your love that knows no bounds. We confess in our self-righteousness we have condemned others to the point of harm. We have been unjust, unkind, unloving, completely antithetical to the ways You taught us through our ancestors, the prophets, and Your own Son. Call us into accountability. Help us to learn our painful truth of systemic sin, even within our churches, and guide us into ways of reparation and restoration. Help us to let go of what we cannot control or change but to work on what we can, to better ourselves and the world around us. Call us to love all our neighbors as ourselves as we strive to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with You. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from 2 Corinthians 13:11b, 13)
“Live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” May this blessing of Paul remind us to live into God’s love and peace, and love and peace will be known to us through the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the community of the Spirit. We are one body, though many members. We need one another. We must do the hard work of repairing, restoring, and forgiveness, so that we can truly be disciples of Jesus Christ in this world. This is how we witness: by love. So in love, may we go forth and share the good news of Jesus. Amen.

Merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity. O Holy One we sing Your praise, and on this Trinity Sunday we sing and pray in the metaphor we know best to describe You. Yet we know our words our inadequate to capture the fullness of Your being, of Your majestic work in creation. Your thoughts are beyond our comprehension. The words of Scripture are still not enough to tell Your whole story, but they do tell us enough: we are to love. We are to love one another, love this earth that You made and care for it as we care for ourselves, and we are to love You. Guide us into ways of care instead of harm. Teach us how to live out Your loving-kindness with one another and ourselves. Keep us to Your ways as taught by Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, now and always. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 28, 2023–Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

(If the reading from Numbers is chosen as the first selection, then the Acts reading is chosen instead of the Epistle reading)

Narrative Lectionary: Nothing Can Separate Us, Acts 2:1-4 and Romans 8:14-39 (Matt 28:16-20)

We have arrived at the penultimate moment of the Christian year. While the liturgical year begins with Advent, bringing us to the Incarnation at Christmas and the revealing of Christ to the world in Epiphany, then the season of Lent brings us through the wilderness of faith through Holy Week and the life and death of Jesus, and resurrection at Easter. But just when we think things couldn’t get any better than Jesus rising from the dead, giving us the promise of new life now and the hope of eternal life, and Jesus ascends to be one with God, Jesus’s promise is revealed—God is always with us! The Holy Spirit is present and active in our lives and in our world, gathering us as the church and working through us to bring about Christ’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.

On the day of Pentecost, when the Jewish people had gathered in Jerusalem fifty days after Passover, they gathered to celebrate the festival of the first fruits of the garden and the Torah being given to Moses at Sinai, the festival of Shavuot. The disciples were all together when they felt the rush of wind so powerful it shook the room they were in, and divided tongues, as of fire, appeared above them. Suddenly, the disciples could speak all the languages of the Jewish diaspora around the Mediterranean. Some of the crowds were perplexed, others said they were drunk, but Peter boldly declared that this was what God spoke through the prophet Joel, that the Holy Spirit was to be poured out on everyone. This was a sign of God’s faithfulness and God’s power upon the people, and there would be even more signs to come as prophesied of the day of the Lord.

The alternate for the Acts reading is Numbers 11:24-30. Moses had hit his limit of the people’s complaining, and in turn complained to God about it. God told Moses to gather seventy elders of Israel, to help share in the leadership with Moses so he would not be burdened. God portioned out some of the same spirit on Moses onto the seventy leaders. However, two others who were in the camp also began to prophesy, for the spirit had rested upon them as well. Though Joshua, Moses’s assistant, told Moses to stop them, Moses questioned Joshua’s motives. Moses wished that all people had the Spirit!

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b is from a great psalm praising God for all of creation. In this portion, the writer speaks of God’s wisdom, often associated with the Holy Spirit, and how in wisdom God made all creatures and how God provides for everything in due season. When God’s Spirit is sent forth, life is renewed, especially plant life as it grows and provides oxygen for us to breathe. The word for spirit in Hebrew, ruach, also means wind and breath. Every living thing that has breath has the Holy Spirit. The psalmist praises God for all of God’s works in creation, for they are so awe-inspiring they cause the singer to tremble. The author blesses God and prays that their meditation will be acceptable and pleasing to God, the audience of this psalm.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 about the gifts of the Spirit. There are a variety of gifts, but they are all from the same Spirit of God. They are all different—prophecy, healing, teaching, discernment, speaking in different tongues, interpretation of different tongues, wisdom, knowledge, miracles, etc.—all different gifts from the same Spirit. Just as the body has many members, so also the diversity of members and their gifts make up the one body of Christ, into which all believers are baptized. One body, one Spirit.

(If the Numbers passage is chosen, then Acts 2:1-21 is used in lieu of the Epistle reading).

The first choice for the Gospel reading today is John’s account of the arrival of the Holy Spirit in John 20:19-23. On the same night Jesus rose from the dead, when the disciples had gathered in a room and shut and locked all the doors for fear of some of the religious leaders, Jesus appeared before them, said, “Peace be with you,” breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In a similar way of the elders of Israel receiving the same Spirit that was on Moses, so too did Jesus’s disciples receive the Spirit and the power and authority to forgive sins.

The second choice is John 7:37-39. At the end of Succoth, the Festival of Booths, Jesus spoke to the crowds and called for those who were thirsty to come to him, for those who believe would have an overflowing faith. The writer of John notes that Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit, which had not yet come because Jesus had yet to be glorified at that time.

The Narrative Lectionary pairs Acts 2:1-4 with Romans 8:14-39. In Acts 2:1-4, the writer of Luke-Acts describes the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost. In Romans 8:14-39, Paul writes of life in the Holy Spirit. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Paul makes it clear that neither Jew or Greek or anyone of any background can be kept out of God’s reign, because if the Holy Spirit is present, they are a child of God. The Jewish and Gentile Christian communities in Rome were at odds with each other after the Jewish population returned during Nero’s time, and the Gentile believers didn’t quite understand how to fit in with their Jewish neighbors, whether they were believers in Jesus, or not. There were struggles, even suffering, during that time, but the Spirit is the one who brings aid and comfort and intercedes when things seem impossible. “All things work together for good for those who love God.” God has continually been working to bring all of God’s children together, no matter their background, no matter what struggles or suffering they have been through. There is nothing they have done and nothing anyone else could do that could separate themselves from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The supplementary verses of Matthew 28:16-20 contain what is known as the Great Commission. After his resurrection, Jesus gathered the disciples—even those who still doubted—and told them that the authority he had been given by God was now on them. The disciples were to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to teach them all Jesus had taught them. And they were to remember that Jesus was always with them, for all time.

It is hard to find something new to say on Pentecost, but the truth is the Holy Spirit is always making things new. One might focus on how the word for spirit is also the word for breath and wind (in Greek it is the same for the word, pneuma) and that creation care is intrinsically part of our theology of the Spirit. God renews the face of the ground in Psalm 104, the earth in which all our living plants are rooted and give us oxygen to breathe. The wind brings us clean air—or smoke from forest fires. If the Spirit is rooted in Christian community from the beginning, then our own rootedness in the Holy Spirit must also be to care for the earth. The call of the Great Commission is to create disciples for Jesus. To be baptized in water and receive the Holy Spirit is to remember that all water is sacred. All water is Living Water, for all water is connected to the Spirit (a wind from God sweeps over the waters of the deep in Genesis 1). The Spirit is poured out, like water, into us and all living things. May we use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to do good in this world, to care for the earth that God has entrusted to us and remember that all people are children of God. Water is life.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 104:24, 30-31, 33, 35b)
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom God has made them all; the earth is full of God’s creatures.
When You send forth Your spirit, they are created;
God renews the face of the ground.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
May we rejoice in God’s works.
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
Bless the LORD, O my soul.
Praise the LORD!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess our sins to You. We have not cared for Your precious earth the way we care for some of our prized possessions. We have polluted the air and poisoned the water. For a people who are baptized in water as symbolic of the Holy Spirit, we have treated You and Your gifts as if they were trash. Forgive us, O God, and hold us accountable. Help us to find ways to reduce and eliminate pollution, especially for communities that do not have clean water to drink. May we work to clean the air and reduce our carbon footprint in this world. For how can we know Your Spirit when we do not treat Your breath, Your wind, as if it were precious? How can we know Your Spirit when we waste water, the very lifeblood that flows in You as a wellspring of eternal life? Forgive us, O God, and instill in us Your wisdom and understanding to care for the earth as Your precious gift to us. For You have shown us through Scripture that the dividing line of heaven and earth will one day be no more, and that You will make Your home with us. You have shown us through the Spirit that we are all Your children. Help us to care for this home You have given us and for the basic needs of clean air and water for all Your children. Amen.

From Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate us from God’s love. May that love of God fill us and renew us and restore us. May that love of God call us to love our neighbors, our siblings, as ourselves, and to care for their needs. May that love of God remind us that we are intertwined with all creation and that we are called to care for the earth as if it is our only home. May that love of God encourage us to live in new, sustainable ways, to be at one with God, others, and nature, for God is one, and made us all dependent on one another. May we depend on each other to do this work Christ has called us to do. Amen.

Prayer (can be sung to the tune of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”)
O Holy Spirit of our God,
descend to us we pray.
Lead us from sin to enter in
relationship today.
We hear the Spirit’s calling
Our baptism like birth—
To clean our air in grateful care;
One love, one faith, one earth.

O Holy Spirit, come upon us, breathe in us and stir in us. Remind us of the gifts You have given us for Your good work here on earth, to love one another, and to meet our neighbor’s needs as You have called us to do. We know when we love one another, we are loved. When we care for one another, our needs are met. Your Spirit intercedes and binds us together. May we be open to the movement of Your Spirit in our world, in our communities, and in our lives, for You make all things new. Call us into the faithful work of Your Spirit’s love. Amen.

Some tips for celebrating Pentecost:

-Invite everyone to wear red.
-Have pinwheels or make pinwheels to celebrate
-Use red streamers and balloons
-Make red and orange folded paper cranes
-Learn about the watershed you live in: https://water.usgs.gov/wsc/map_index.html

Worship Resources for May 21, 2023—Ascension of the Lord, Seventh Sunday of Easter

(Apologies this post is a couple of days late–very busy week the last week!)

Revised Common Lectionary
Ascension of the Lord: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Narrative Lectionary: Hope of Resurrection, Romans 6:1-14 (Matthew 6:24)

The Ascension of the Lord is observed ten days before Pentecost, so this year on May 18th. It is an additional choice for this Sunday’s readings.

We begin with the beginning of Acts, written by the author of Luke, who summarizes what they wrote in the Gospel according to Luke and begins with the ascension, whereas the Gospel according to Luke ends with the ascension. Jesus instructs the disciples to remain near Jerusalem, for as they were baptized by water, soon they will be baptized by the Holy Spirit. At this point, some of Jesus’s disciples ask him if this is when the kingdom of Israel will be restored. Some of the disciples still have a worldly understanding of a kingdom like David’s. Jesus reminds them this is not something for them to know; instead, what they will know is the work of the Holy Spirit among them. Jesus is preparing them for living into God’s reign on earth, rather than a worldly reign, and this kingdom is through the Holy Spirit, not a worldly throne. As Jesus literally ascends into the clouds, two angels (perhaps the two from the tomb?) ask the disciples why they are standing around and looking up? Jesus will return the same way he left—unexpectedly. Since we can’t know the time or what exactly God will do, we are not to be passive in our waiting, but active, knowing the Holy Spirit will do so much more than we can imagine through us.

Psalm 47 is a song of praise to God who is the God of all people, ruler of all nations. God chose to be the people’s God through their ancestors, but all nations and all peoples will know God, the one who rules over all. The psalmist calls upon the people to praise God, for God is exalted above the whole earth.

An alternative psalm reading is Psalm 93, another song of praise to God who is sovereign over all. God’s reign is established from of old and all the earth, even the floodwaters, roar their praise to God. All praise belongs to God, for God’s holiness endures forever.

The writer of Ephesians, purporting to be Paul, writes in 1:15-23 of the faithfulness of the people of Ephesus and prays that they will have a spirit of wisdom and revelation as they come to know Jesus Christ. God’s immeasurable power and greatness has been put to work in Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead, who has authority over all things, and is the head of the body—the church—and the church is the fullness of Christ on earth.

The account of the ascension at the end of Luke’s Gospel account is different than the account given in Acts 1, though it is the same author. In Luke 24:44-53, Jesus explains the scriptures to the disciples, about how he was to suffer, die, and on the third day rise, and they are now the witnesses of what has happened. Jesus instructs them to stay in the city to receive the Holy Spirit promised to them, and then, as he blesses them in Bethany, Jesus ascended into heaven. The disciples worshiped him, and continued to worship in the temple and praise God.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter readings overlap a bit with Ascension Sunday, beginning with Acts 1:6-14. Following the ascension and the message of the angels in verse 11, the male disciples, along with the women disciples, Jesus’s mother, and brothers, gathered in Jerusalem at the house they were staying and devoted themselves to prayer. They trusted in Jesus’s words as they waited for the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 is a song of praise to God for victory in battle. The psalmist sees God as the defender and protector of the most vulnerable of society, becoming a father to orphans, assurance to widows, and liberator to prisoners. God brings restoration to those who have lost everything. God led the people through the wilderness and showed power through nature, providing for the people. The psalmist concludes by calling all of creation and the people to praise God—because God is the one who will fight for those on the margins.

The Epistle reading concludes the series in 1 Peter with 4:12-14, 5:6-11. The writer again assures the beloved community of Christ that they do not suffer alone. In the time when they are facing persecution, they are sharing in Christ’s sufferings and are blessed by God’s glory in those times. The author urges the listeners to be humble and steadfast with God and to resist evil. All believers are struggling and suffering around the known world, but the author gives assurance that Christ will restore, support, and strengthen those who are faithful.

Jesus’s final prayer for the disciples in John’s account begins in John 17:1-11. Jesus prays that he might be glorified so that all people will know that God is the true God and he, Jesus, is the one whom God has sent. Jesus has finished the work God gave him to do, and now Jesus prays on behalf of the disciples, because they believed. They were sent by God to Jesus, and now Jesus prays that they will be protected by God as Jesus returns to God, and that the disciples may be one, as he and God are one.

The Narrative Lectionary looks to the Hope of Resurrection in Romans 6:1-14. Paul uses rhetoric to show that even though Jesus has saved all from sin, believers are not to continue in sin. All who are baptized are baptized into Jesus’s death and have new life now because Jesus was raised. The old self has been crucified, and believers live into a new life. Death frees us from sin at the end of our life, but Jesus’s death frees us from sin now. We are alive in Christ. Sin has no hold on us anymore.

The supplementary verse of Matthew 6:24 is Jesus’s teaching that we cannot serve two masters. Jesus declares we cannot serve God and wealth. Paul would say we cannot live into the ways of this world if we live into Christ. Our old lives are put to death.

The Ascension is a mystery to us—we know Jesus didn’t just fly up above because heaven is not above us, though that was the understanding of the heavens and the earth at the time. Rather, Jesus came to earth in an unexpected way—as vulnerable as a helpless baby—and will return to us in a similar way. Somehow, Jesus attained oneness with God, and we, too, will one day be at one with God and one another.

Call to Worship
Praise God, who reigns over all.
Praise the One who made heaven and earth, the whole universe.
Praise God, whose reign is not of this world.
Praise the One who commanded us to love one another and laid down his life for us.
Praise God, who will never fail us as worldly politicians do.
Praise the One who became last of all and servant of all.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.
Praise the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Architect of the Universe, You created the expanse beyond our wildest imagination. There are stars so massive and particles so small that we can never comprehend it. We struggle with day to day living when You have made so much that we will never know. The world’s challenges seem unsurmountable and yet You made planets so distant that none of us will live to see even half of Neptune’s orbit around the sun, though we witness Mercury in retrograde a few times a year. Great Designer, may we remember with humility how small we really are, and yet Your love for us is as vast as the galaxy. May we recall in our moments of loneliness that You know the number of stars and the number of hairs on our heads. May we hold on to the knowledge in our most despairing times that You sent Your Only Son for us, to show us Your Way, Your Truth, and Your Life. All in all, if there is nothing we can truly know except one thing, may it be Your love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

God fashioned us all out of stardust, the same molecules that are the building blocks of the universe are in our bones and tissue. We were made out of love. You are made in God’s image. When you look in a mirror, God is winking back at you. You are precious in God’s sight. May we hold one another tenderly, forgiving each other as we are forgiven, working to repair what has been broken, and to live into the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. God loves you so. Amen.

The Ascension is a mystery to us, O God. We know that Christ is not above us physically, but the oneness You have known from the beginning is the oneness Christ experienced at the Ascension, a oneness we live into as the body of Christ on earth. It is a mystery how all of us, with all our differences, with all our struggles and challenges, can be one in You, but You have ordained it so. Help us to live into the Body of Christ with our diversity of gifts and strengths, to remember we need one another, and to build each other up. Christ is our head, we are the body, and we are joined at the heart by our love for one another. May we seek to share that love and oneness with the world. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 14, 2023—Sixth Sunday of Easter, Mother’s Day (U.S.)

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Narrative Lectionary: God’s Love Poured Out, Romans (3:28-30), 5:1-11 (Matthew 11:28-30)

Continuing in Acts this season of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary turns to Paul’s speech to the people of Athens in 17:22-31. Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, had left Thessalonica in 17:10 for nearby Beroea where they were received more warmly by the Jewish community there, but the leaders from Thessalonica showed up and stirred up trouble, and Paul was sent to Athens. While Paul waited for Silas and Timothy to arrive, Paul noticed all the statues to idols in the city. Athens was a religious center, as Paul went to the synagogue to debate with other Jewish people and the marketplace to debate with Greek philosophers. But Paul was distressed over the idols. Paul then went and stood in front of Ares Hill (Mars Hill) and addressed the people of Athens on their religiousness, including the statue to the unknown god, and declared that the Creator who made everything of heaven and earth is a known God. This is the God who made all people from one ancestor. Paul then quoted the philosopher poets Epimenides and Aratus and showed that God has been made known through other traditions, but God called all people to repent, for the world will be “judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.” Paul also stated that this man, Jesus, gave assurance to everyone by raising him from the dead. Following this passage, some of the Athenian women followed him and became believers.

Psalm 66:8-20 is a portion of a song of gratitude. This second part of the song is framed by blessings and praise to God who has heard the psalmist’s prayer. The psalmist acknowledges the hardships the people have faced, but God has continually delivered them, through water and fire, out of burdens and traps, and into a safer place. In verses 13-15, the psalmist makes commitments of worship, sacrifice, offerings, and vows—all to demonstrate faithfulness on behalf of the singer. Verses 16-19 share the psalmist’s experience of crying out to God, and how God listened. The psalmist encourages others to be faithful in seeking God, for God has not rejected the psalmist’s prayer.

The Epistle reading continues in 1 Peter with 3:13-22. The author writes of doing good despite suffering, encouraging others to be faithful and honest, to keep their conscience clear. Christ himself suffered and was innocent, and so suffering is part of life for the faithful (though God does not desire suffering). The author comments that it is better, if one must suffer, to suffer for doing good rather than evil. The writer uses the image of Noah and the ark as a metaphor for baptism. In the midst of the flood, Noah and his family were saved. They survived. They started anew. The writer of 1 Peter uses this as an image of baptism: we are made new, despite our suffering.

The Gospel lesson continues with part of Jesus’s final discourse in John 14:15-21, moving to what will come next for the disciples. Jesus reminds them of the commandment to love one another, and that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will come to be with them forever. Only the faithful will know this Spirit of Truth because the world does not know the Spirit. Jesus knew he would die, but the disciples did not understand he would rise and be with them again, and because he lived, they also would live. The disciples would know that Jesus and God the Father not only abide in each other but abide in all believers. The fullness of Jesus will be revealed to those who love him, and so they must love one another.

The Narrative Lectionary continues its theme on Paul in Romans. In 3:28-30, Paul argues that a person is justified by faith. God is God of both Jews and Gentiles, because God is one and there is no other God. In 5:1-11 (which was the Revised Common Lectionary reading for the 3rd Sunday in Lent on March 12), Paul writes that because believers are justified by faith, they share in the glory of God through Jesus Christ. Even though they may suffer, in their suffering they will still experience the hope of God because they know God’s love through Jesus. Even though not all knew Christ, Christ died for all. There is no one who cannot know God’s love through Jesus Christ. Paul views Christ’s death as a sacrifice that saves everyone, regardless of being under the law or not, and Christ’s death reconciles everyone to God. It is not the believer’s works, but rather one’s faith in Christ that matters.

In the supplementary verses of Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus calls the disciples to give over their burdens to him, to be faithful to God by learning from Jesus and to take his yoke upon themselves. In our suffering, we know we can go to Christ, and know that we will find assurance and comfort.

Love is the way. Jesus said it to his disciples long ago that if they loved him, they would obey his commandments, and his commandment is to love. We know the work of God through the love of one another. In the midst of our struggles and suffering in this world, we know that we cannot make it alone. It is the love of others that encourages us and keeps us going. In faithfulness to God, we love one another as God’s children. The world teaches us to put ourselves first and our own desires, but Jesus teaches us that when we love one another, we meet each other’s needs. We recognize that God, who dwells in Christ, also dwells in us. When we love one another, we share that indwelling Spirit. The Holy Spirit gifts us with the ways we can share that love. Christ came for all and died for all. It is a message to be shared with the world through love. Far too often Christians have failed and have instead judged others, laid upon heavy burdens, and caused other’s suffering instead of relieving it. But we still have hope. We know God’s love has transformed our lives through Jesus Christ. God’s love can transform this world, if we live into it.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 66:16, 19-20)
Come and hear, all you in awe of God,
and I will tell what God has done for me.
Truly God has listened;
God has given heed to the words of my prayer.
Blessed be God, because God has not rejected my prayer;
God has not removed God’s steadfast love from me.
Come and worship, all you in awe of God,
Let us tell the story of God’s love together.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that we have followed idols that distract us from You. The idol of wealth. The idol of notoriety. The idol of busy-ness. The idol of worldly success. All the things we wish we had more of, or that we have paid far too much attention to. Help us to let go of these idols, to remove them from our lives. Help us to counter these idols. For wealth, remind us of Your generous and abundant love. For notoriety, remind us that You know our inmost thoughts and the hairs on our head, more than anyone else could ever know us. For busy-ness, remind us to practice Sabbath rest. For worldly success, remind us that our treasure is in You, and in the hearts of one another. May we leave the idols of this world behind and instead live into Your way, Your truth, and Your life. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” John 14:21
If we love one another, we must forgive one another.
If we love ourselves, we will seek forgiveness and restoration.
If we love God, we will seek to serve God in the world.
Know this, that you are God’s beloved child, and with you, God is well-pleased. Go forth into the world sharing God’s love, grace, forgiveness, healing, and restoration, and may God’s peace be with you. Amen.

Spirit of Truth, You have promised us that we will not be left alone, that we will not be orphaned. On this day that can be both joyous and difficult, we are reminded that we are Your children, that You are our God, our Creator, our Parent, Mother/Father, the Source of our Being. You are the only one who will never leave us or forsake us. No matter what has happened to us or will happen, You are with us every moment. You are Trustworthy and True. We know that in You is all love and light and hope. May we hold Your promise tenderly on days that are difficult and know that You are alive in us. May we love one another and share Your grace and peace, on this day and all days. Amen.

Worship Resources for May 7, 2023—Fifth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

Narrative Lectionary: Gospel as Salvation, Romans 1:1-17 (Matthew 9:10-13)

On this Fifth Sunday of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary continues its series of the first reading from Acts, this time of Stephen’s martyrdom in 7:55-60. Stephen, after his arrest, responded to the charges by sharing how God had delivered the people throughout history and sent prophets to them, but the people of God had rejected God’s prophets and had not kept God’s commandments. The council was enraged against Stephen, but it was when Stephen beheld a vision of Jesus at the right hand of God and proclaimed it to them, the council rushed him out of the city, refusing to listen to him (they covered their ears), and stoned him. Stephen prayed for Jesus to receive his spirit, and that the Lord wouldn’t hold this sin against the crowd, right before he died at their hands.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 is a prayer of help and trust in God. The psalmist calls upon God to rescue and deliver them, but also prays for God to grant them strength and salvation. They know God is the one who protects them, and the psalmist commits their spirit to God, knowing that whatever happens, God is with them. In verses 15-16, the psalmist puts their trust in God, praying for God to deliver them from their enemies, that they might be saved in God’s steadfast love.

The Epistle readings continue in 1 Peter, backing up to 2:2-10 (before last week’s reading). The writer uses the metaphor of spiritual milk, as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 3:2, but this time it is a positive metaphor: for new believers, they need to desire what will nourish and satisfy so they can grow in faith. Quoting Psalm 34:8, the writer calls upon the faithful to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” The writer then switches metaphors to that of a living stone. Quoting Psalm 118:22, they are the stone rejected by the world. Jesus also quoted this scripture in referring to himself, but now the writer uses it for the believers, now chosen by God to be the foundation of the church in their day. These believers, mostly Gentile, now have an identity in Christ as a people, the temple of God here on earth.

John 14:1-14 contains the beginning of Jesus’s final discourse to the disciples before his arrest and death. Jesus shares how he is going ahead of the disciples to prepare a place for them, but the disciples are still thinking physically rather than spiritually, and they do not understand what he is talking about. Jesus, speaking directly to the disciples in response to Thomas’s question about knowing the way, explains that for them, he is the way, the truth, and the life—there is no other way to know God. Philip then tells Jesus if he just shows them God the Father, that would be enough. Jesus replies with, “Don’t you know me?” Jesus has shown them that he and God the Father are one. Jesus calls on them to believe in him, to know that he is going to the Father but that Jesus will answer their prayers, so that God the Father’s glory will be made known. While we may want to move away from gendered language for God, Jesus uses the term Father to show the intimate relationship he has with God, as God’s beloved One. The disciples have not understood the Messiah in this way before, as being the Son of God.

The Narrative Lectionary for the remainder of this season of Easter moves to the mission of Paul. In Romans 1:1-17, Paul introduces himself to the church in Rome, a church made up of Gentile and Jewish believers in Jesus. Though a previous emperor had expelled the Jewish people from Rome, Emperor Nero had allowed them to return. Anti-Jewish sentiment existed among the Gentile population, even among Gentile believers in Jesus. Paul wrote to them to share that while he had not visited them yet, he wanted to preach the Gospel to them and that they can mutually build up one another. God’s salvation was revealed first to those who are Jewish, but also to those who are Greek. The theme of Paul’s letter can be summed up as this: Both Jewish and Gentile believers are saved by faith.

The supplementary verses are Matthew 9:10-13. Jesus called the tax collector Matthew to follow him, and Matthew invited Jesus to eat at his house along with other tax collectors and sinners. Some of the Pharisees asked Jesus’s disciples why Jesus would eat with those people, but Jesus replied to them that those who are sick need a doctor, not those who are well. Jesus came to call not the righteous but sinners. For those who do not believe themselves in need of a relationship with God or do not see themselves as separated from God, they will not understand Jesus’s message, but for all those who desire to know God more deeply, they will listen to Jesus’s call on their life.

How do we remain faithful to Christ’s call on our life, even when we do not fully understand? How do we remain faithful when we are uncertain about the future, or the struggles of today? Jesus taught the disciples that he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. What that means has been debated over the years, but it is clear that to those who trust Jesus, there is no other way. Jesus calls us to this new, different life, and we follow. We love one another and live into Christ’s reign on earth, even though we still wait for it to fully arrive. We believe that sin, death, and hell do not have the final word. While some have the certainty of heaven and what heaven might look like, others may simply have the hope of resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11). This is our way. This is our truth. And this is our life.

Call to Worship (John 14:1-3; 13:34; 14:6; 13:35)
Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God, believe in Jesus Christ the Son.
For God has prepared something new for us,
The reign of Christ that we have glimpsed here and now.
For this is Christ’s commandment,
That we love one another.
Christ has shown us the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
For everyone will know that we are Christ’s disciples,
If we have love for one another.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Parental God, You love us as Your children, but as children we have not always listened to You. We fail to heed Your warnings and hear Your call to turn back. We make mistakes, and fall down, and struggle to learn. Nonetheless, Your love for us through Jesus Christ Your Holy One reminds us that love can lift us up, love can restore us, and love can heal us, teach us, and guide us to live in Your ways. Call us back to Your way, Your truth, and Your life, by loving one another, for this is the commandment that all others fall under: may we love one another. In this love, may our faith grow that You make all things new, and restore all things, even us. Amen.

Jesus never gave up on the disciples, even though they betrayed him, denied him, doubted him, argued who was the greatest, tried to call down hellfire and brimstone in a fit of anger, and didn’t believe their sisters who told them repeatedly that he had risen. Jesus doesn’t give up on you, either, when you struggle in your faith, say things you regret, and fail to trust others. So get up. Dust off your knees, wipe your eyes, and know that Christ loves you so much. You are precious to God, despite any flaws or shortcomings. God loves you madly and wants you to be part of Christ’s reign on earth. Join in the fun and the heartache. Love one another, forgive one another, and take up the challenge to live into Christ’s way, truth, and life. Share the good news. Amen.

God of Oneness, through our ancestors Sarah and Abraham and Hagar, You showed yourself to be the same God no matter where our ancestors wandered, no matter where they called home. You showed yourself to be the One who knew their pain and suffering under oppression, their loneliness in exile, and the One who helped restore our ancestors when they returned home. Through Jesus, we know Your oneness in a new way, a oneness with us that outlasts the grave and transcends the world that we know. Your Oneness was revealed to the early followers of Jesus as they recognized themselves as Your body in Christ, regardless of their culture or ethnicity or gender, or any other way of dividing. You are One. You bring us together and bind us as One people. In all the divisions of the world that we know, may we be united by Your love, across gender, orientation, race, culture, economic status, language, politics—may we recognize Your face in each other and strive to be Your people, Your body, Your love to one another. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 30, 2023—Fourth Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Narrative Lectionary: Paul’s Mission, Acts 13:1-3; 14:8-18 (Matthew 10:40-42)

The Revised Common Lectionary continues with lessons from the early church in Acts. Following the manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, we learn that awe came upon everyone in Acts 2:42-47. The new believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, and became a new community that shared their resources with each other, broke bread together, worshiped and fellowshipped together. Their faithfulness was observed by others as they had the “goodwill of all the people,” and new believers came to join them every day because of how the Spirit was lived out in their life together as a community of faith.

The Shepherd’s Psalm of Psalm 23 has long been attributed to David, but this ancient song of assurance and comfort while facing evil and death continues to speak to us today of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. God is the one who provides for us and cares for us as a good shepherd, and will be with us through life’s greatest challenges and loneliness. Even in the face of evil, God’s blessings overflow, and we know God is present with us, now and always.

The Epistle readings for the season of Easter are from 1 Peter. In this week’s selection of 2:19-25 (coming after next week’s selection of 2:2-10), the writer of 1 Peter identifies Christ’s suffering with that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. The writer assures the believers in the early church who were struggling that their suffering was in solidarity with Christ, who also suffered unjustly. The writer states that Jesus suffered on the cross for sin, so that sin would not have a hold on humanity. In Christ, believers have healing and hope, even while they suffer. Christ is our shepherd, the one who guards us and has delivered us from the sin of the world.

The Gospel readings turn to John for the remainder of the season. In John 10:1-10, Jesus speaks of the shepherd as the one who guards the sheep and is the gate, for the sheep know the shepherd’s voice and know how to enter through the gate. Anyone who does not enter by the gate are thieves and bandits, those who want to cause harm to the sheep. Jesus as the gate wants to save the sheep, while others want to steal and kill (in the first century, there were others claiming to be the Messiah before Jesus). Jesus shared this metaphor but those listening did not understand that he wanted to lead the people to eternal life, not to a temporary safety, but an eternal assurance of God’s faithfulness.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Paul for the remainder of Easter, though in this lesson is Luke’s account in Acts of Paul’s mission in 13:1-3 and 14:8-18. In 13:1-3, the Holy Spirit speaks to some of the leaders gathered at the church in Antioch, calling Barnabas and Saul (Paul). In Lystra, a disabled man approached Paul and listened to him speak. Paul turned to the man, calls him to stand upright, and the man was able to walk. Immediately the crowds identified Paul and Barnabas as Hermes and Zeus, and the priest of Zeus wanted to offer a sacrifice. Paul and Barnabas insisted that this was the work of the living God, the one who made all heaven and earth and the sea. Paul and Barnabas were simply human beings, not gods. There is only one God, the God who provides for everyone and all things. But it was hard to convince the crowds otherwise.

The supplementary verses of Matthew 10:40-42 contain Jesus’s teaching to the disciples about welcome and hospitality, and that the one who welcomes Jesus welcomes not just him but the one who sent him. Those who welcome a prophet receive a prophet’s reward. All are called to welcome and receive one another as if God is among them.

In this season of Easter, we remember that Christ was present with the disciples after his resurrection before his ascension. We think of Christ as our Good Shepherd, the one who is with us always and is calling us to listen to his voice. We are reminded that there is no other shepherd who would suffer for us and knows when we are suffering. Christ calls us into fold, and we are not alone. We are also reminded that in the early days, the first followers of Jesus came together in community, sharing in worship and fellowship together and witnessing to others by their way of life. Others were drawn to their practices and sharing so joyfully and faithfully of Christ. When Paul began his ministry, he did not bring healing and hope to people so they would worship him, but so they would know Christ. Even when others thought he was a god, he pointed them back to Jesus. The early church did the same, with awe and wonder and deep joy as they fellowshipped with one another, they shared the Good News in all their actions as well as their words. May we be inspired by those early believers and leaders, and listen to the voice of Christ who calls us into community with one another.

Call to Worship
Awe and wonder, gladness and generosity;
May we witness God’s love in community.
May we share in worship and fellowship together,
Knowing God’s faithfulness and steadfast love.
God calls us to share what we have with those in need,
For our own hearts and lives are full of God’s abundance.
The Shepherd is calling you by name, listen to their voice,
For you belong to God, and we belong together in Christ.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of the Covenant, You called us from the beginning to be in community. You covenant with us through our ancestors to be our God, and You promised to be faithful in steadfast love. You have always remained true to us, though we have strayed from You. Remind us that Your covenant is written on our hearts, that even when we are faithless, You remain faithful. Instill in us the hope that we always can find forgiveness, healing, and peace in You, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, the maker of the unbreakable Covenant that is love in our hearts. Amen.

The Lord is our Shepherd, the one who leads us in safety and assurance, providing for us out of an abundance of steadfast love. There is nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Know the Good Shepherd in your life, and listen for Christ’s voice. Go forth and help one another to know the voice of love that is in their heart, that they are God’s beloved child. Listen to that voice yourself, for You are God’s beloved. God is well pleased with you. Share the good news. Amen.

God of Peace, bless us with peace in our heart. May peace be on our tongue; may we speak truth in love. May peace be in our gut, to calm the rage we feel; may our anger be channeled into positive work for justice. May peace be in our hands, to help those in need, rather than to harm those who’ve hurt us. May peace be in our soul, for we are not alone. God of peace, we know You are with us, in the friends who share their love with us. Bless us with peace, now and always. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 23, 2023—Third Sunday of Easter, Earth Day Weekend

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

Narrative Lectionary: Peter’s Vision, Acts 10:1-17, 34-48 (Matthew 9:36-37)

The first reading of the Revised Common Lectionary concludes Peter’s declaration on the Day of Pentecost with Acts 2:14a, 36-41. In this portion, Peter states that God made Jesus Lord and Messiah, whose crucifixion all of Jerusalem witnessed and knew about. Those gathered asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Using the term “brothers” indicates that they honored and recognized Peter and the disciples and were convinced by their message. Peter called upon them to repent and be baptized so they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter assured them the promise was for everyone who believed, and on that day about three thousand persons were added to the followers of Jesus.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 is a song of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance. The psalmist was near death, but God saved them, and they love God because God has heard their pleas. The psalmist asks what they can give back to God for all God has done for them? They can fulfill their promises and keep all their vows, call upon God’s name and serve God faithfully, as their own mother served God. They know God is the one who brings liberation. The psalmist will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, upholding their promises to God before the congregation in the temple.

The Epistle reading continues the series in this Easter season in 1 Peter. In 1:17-23, the author writes of the believers with the metaphor of exile, one the Jewish followers of Jesus certainly knew from their own scriptures and history, but one in which all the followers of Jesus could understand. They were not part of Judaism anymore and were certainly not part of the empirical religion. They were waiting for the fulfillment of Christ’s reign to come, and the author uses another metaphor of ransom, that through the blood of Jesus’s sacrifice they now belong to God. They are no longer part of the old pagan ways of their parents and ancestors but are part of the beloved family of Christ. Through Jesus, they have come to trust God who gave his only Son for them, and in obedience to God’s love, they also love one another, for they need each other as ones set apart, ones living in a sort of exile from the world around them.

Luke 24:13-35 contains the story of Jesus’s resurrection appearance to two of Jesus’s followers on the road to Emmaus. Cleopas and another unnamed follower of Jesus were perplexed because some of the women who traveled with the followers of Jesus found the tomb empty, and claimed to have received a message from angels that Christ had risen. They come across another traveler on the road to Emmaus away from Jerusalem and tell this traveler all they experienced. This traveler, in turn, explained the Scriptures to them, and how they explained the Messiah and that these things must take place. Cleopas and the other urge the traveler to stay with them, and it was as they sat down to the table and the stranger took bread, broke it and blessed it before them that they finally recognized it was Jesus. He vanished from their sight. Cleopas and the other disciple returned to Jerusalem quickly, to share their experience of the risen Christ, who had also appeared to Simon Peter at this point, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Peter’s vision of inclusion in Acts 10:1-17, 34-48. Verses 34-43 were part of the Revised Common Lectionary readings on Easter Sunday. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion stationed in Caesarea who was a God-fearer, what Gentiles were called who had come to believe in one God, the same God that their Jewish neighbors believed in, but had not converted to Judaism. An angel told Cornelius to go to Simon Peter, who was staying with Simon the tanner. While Cornelius was on his way, Peter had a vision himself, of a large tablecloth descending from heaven with all sorts of food, those considered clean and unclean by the dietary restrictions of Judaism. A voice told him to eat, but Peter refused, because he had never eaten anything ritually impure. However, the voice told him to never call unclean what God had made clean. This happened three times before the tablecloth returned to heaven. Peter wondered what the vision meant, and then Cornelius came to see him. Cornelius explained his own encounter with an angel, and Peter recognized that God had shown him a new truth: there was no one considered impure by God. There was no one who could not be included in Christ’s reign who loved Jesus Christ. This was the message: Christ had died for all people. Christ rose from the dead and commanded the disciples to preach to all people. While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon all those gathered, Jews and Gentiles. Peter then had Cornelius and all with him baptized.

The supplementary verses are Matthew 9:36-37, when crowds had gathered near Jesus, and he had compassion for them. He saw them like sheep without a shepherd and called his disciples to pray for more servants of God to serve the people.

In this Easter season we are preparing for Pentecost, the celebration of the Holy Spirit. While we look around our world for signs of resurrection, of new life, we cannot help but see signs of the Holy Spirit at work. Every time the disciples, after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension, went to proclaim the Gospel, they found people who were outcasts longing to belong. They were unsure how to welcome them, but the Holy Spirit did the work. They saw the risen Christ when they showed hospitality and broke bread together. They experienced the Holy Spirit in the transformation of lives, in the baptisms of those who repented and gave their life over to Christ. They experienced the Holy Spirit at work in the inclusion of Gentile believers who believed in the same God and shared in the same gifts of the Holy Spirit, even though they were not Jewish. In everything good, in everything life-transforming, in everything compassionate and kind, in everything merciful—they found God was the one at work. So may we experience the Risen Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our world, in the here and now.

Call to Worship (from Philippians 4:8-9)
Whatever is true, whatever is holy,
Whatever is just, whatever is pure,
Whatever is pleasing, whatever is worthy of praise,
Keep your hearts and minds on these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received,
And the God of peace will be with us.
May we come to this time of worship,
Focusing our hearts and minds on God
So we may live into the world practicing God’s love, grace, and mercy.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Author of Salvation, we confess that You keep drawing the circle wider, but we keep trying to cut corners. You remind us throughout Scripture to care for the poor, the widows, the orphans, the meek—all the most vulnerable among us—but we have given far too much concern to the wealthy and powerful among us. We have showed favoritism to those who have things we want, instead of favoritism to those whom You always take notice of and whom You have commanded us to care for. Forgive us for rewriting Your commandments to fit our own desires. Forgive us for cutting out people You have called us to welcome. Call us into a greater hospitality. Call us into a greater humility. Guide us into Your way of love for one another, in which we become last of all and servant of all—not to be walked all over, but to know that when we meet the needs of others around us, our own needs are met. In the name of Christ, who came to us humble as one of us, died as one of us, and lives again, we pray all things. Amen.

God’s love knows no limits, no boundaries. There is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and so we ought to not limit our love for one another. Love and forgive others for the same things that you continue to do. Strive to live into God’s ways of compassion and kindness, even to those who do not deserve it, and remember how much God loves you. Go and share the good news, knowing you are forgiven, redeemed, and restored. Amen.

A Prayer for Earth Day weekend
Creator of the Earth, we thank You and praise You for all Your wondrous works in the universe, and for this special planet we call Earth. We know from the scriptures that everything You made is good: all light and darkness, all water and earth, everything that lives in the sea and all birds and insects that fly in the air. Every creature on this planet You have breathed life into and given purpose. Even us, O God, You made in Your image to care for the earth and all creation as You care for us. We thank You and praise You for this sacred responsibility. Forgive us, O God, for all the times we have taken Your earth for granted. Forgive us for misusing Your resources for our own material, temporary gain. Forgive us for not heeding Your very first commandment to us, which was to be fruitful, to care for the earth in our fruitfulness, to have dominion over the earth the way You have dominion over us. Call us into accountability, to repair what we have broken and destroyed, to turn back to Your first commandment and to love this beautiful planet You made for us, the only one that is our home. We trust in You, our Maker and Shaper of Who We Are and of All Things to Come, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 16, 2023—Second Sunday of Easter

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Narrative Lectionary: Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20 (Psalm 40:9-10)

The first selection for the Revised Common Lectionary for the season of Easter comes from Acts. In this portion of Acts 2:14a, 22-32, on the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly declared that the work of the Holy Spirit was among the disciples. In this selection, Peter explained the purpose of Jesus’s death—though crucified by human hands, Peter believed this was part of God’s plan to free Jesus and all of humanity from death. Peter quoted from the Psalms, presuming the author to be David, and interpreted the life and words of David as foreshadowing and prophesying about Jesus, of whom Peter, the disciples, and everyone present on that day of Pentecost were witnesses.

Psalm 16 is a prayer for help and assurance that God is the one true God. The psalmist asks God for deliverance because they have remained faithful to God, choosing no other gods. The psalmist refuses to participate in the worship of other gods, but blesses, rejoices, and give thanks to God who has provided for them. God has not abandoned them to death, but instead, God has instructed them in the way of life, and there are always blessings for those who remain faithful to God.

The Epistle readings for this season of Easter are from 1 Peter. In 1:3-9, the writer speaks of the new hope given to us through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. At the time of the writing of 1 Peter, Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension had occurred a few generations before, and believers were weary in waiting for Christ’s return. The writer assured the believers that in faithfulness, God would reveal all. The faithful were struggling and suffering in that time and needed assurance. In their genuineness of faith and trust in Jesus, the author wrote that they would come to know unspeakable joy. They may rejoice in their salvation because Jesus was raised from the dead.

John 20:19-31 continues the story of Easter Sunday, with the appearance of Jesus to the disciples the same evening Mary found him in the garden. However, Thomas was not with them. Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” to the disciples as he showed them his hands and his side, and he breathed on them, sharing with them the Holy Spirit. Since Thomas was not with them, when they told Thomas what happened, he said he wouldn’t believe unless he also saw Jesus’s hands and side. The next week, Thomas was with them, and even though the doors were shut (just like the last week) Jesus appeared to them, and showed Thomas his hands and side, and told him not to doubt but believe. When Thomas finally declared that this was Jesus who has appeared to him, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” When one follows the story of Thomas through John’s Gospel account, one sees a follower who goes from great zeal “Let us also go that we may die with him” (11:16), to “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (14:5) to scattering with the other disciples after Jesus’s betrayal, to missing out on the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples. Thomas thought he knew who Jesus was and what Jesus’s movement was about. When he realized he didn’t know, doubt entered in. But the faith of his friends brought him back to the room where it happened. Also, paired with the Narrative Lectionary reading below, in Matthew’s account we know there were other disciples who also doubted, they just were not all named (Matthew 28:17).

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20. When the remaining disciples went ahead to Galilee, where Jesus had told the women he would meet them, they worshiped when they saw him, but some doubted. Even in seeing him, there are others who doubted (Thomas was not the only one). Jesus declares he has received all authority in heaven and earth and now gives that authority to the disciples, to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to teach them everything Jesus has commanded, and to remember that Christ is always with them.

The supplemental verses of Psalm 40:9-10 share the author’s profession that they have shared the news of their deliverance in front of the congregation. They have not held anything back. They have been a witness of God’s salvation and faithfulness to all.

This is a good Sunday to talk about doubt as part of the faith journey. Even after Jesus’s death and resurrection, some of the disciples doubted. Even as he stood before them and they worshiped him, some of them held doubts. This is part of our faith journey. It is the showing up and continuing to follow the commandments that makes us faithful. The father of a child possessed by demons brought his child to Jesus’s disciples, but they were unable to cast out the demon. Jesus told the man that all things were possible for the one who has faith, and the father declared, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:14-25). Doubt is part of the struggle of the faith journey. And there are times when we may even want to walk away from it all, as Thomas did. The good news is that we are not alone. What makes us faithful sometimes isn’t our own faith but the faith of those around us, the ones we can rely on. The other disciples didn’t give up on Thomas. The disciples who doubted in Matthew 28:17 still worshiped. They still received the Great Commission. As far as we know, they stuck around and continued the ministry, even in their time of doubt, because the faith of others urged them on. Like the father of the demon-possessed boy, sometimes our prayer is, “I believe; help my unbelief.” Help me through the times of doubt and struggle. Help me when I want to walk away from it all. And when I can’t even pray, may others pray for me.

Call to Worship (from 1 Peter 1:3, 8a; Mark 9:24)
Blessed be our God and our Lord Jesus Christ!
I believe; help my unbelief.
We have been given a new birth into a living hope.
I believe; help my unbelief.
A living hope through resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
I believe; help my unbelief.
Although you have not seen Christ, you love Christ.
I believe; help my unbelief.
In this time of worship, may we hold on to the faith of others,
May we pray for each other, and follow Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that at times we have shared empty phrases and platitudes to assure ourselves when others have struggled and suffered. We have tried to force a faithful response instead of sitting with the questions and doubt. Forgive us for putting our feelings above another’s struggles. We also confess at times others have done this to us, and we acknowledge the pain and hurt we have felt. We confess boldly that doubt is not the opposite of faith, and that there is no shame in holding doubts and sharing our struggles. We ask instead, O God, for the wisdom to help one another on the journey of faith. We ask for the strength to sit in silence. We ask for the courage to listen without judgment. We ask, O God, for Your love to prevail, for it is love that sees us through our struggles of faith. It is the love of others that assures us and presses us forward. May we love one another as fully as You have loved us, and may we love ourselves in our times of struggle. We remember Your prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, and Your cry on Calvary, and know that You, too, know what it is to struggle in faith. We confess boldly that we are not alone, and that You know us and love us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Blessed are you on the journey of faith and doubt. Blessed are you when you love one another and pray for one another and encourage one another. Blessed are you when you allow others to pray for you, comfort you, and assure you. Blessed are you when you forgive one another and do not hold doubts and misgivings against one another. Blessed are you when you share the Good News to the world. Go and share the Gospel of Love. Amen.

God of Resurrection, help us to acknowledge the signs of new life all around us. Help us to find hope and joy and gratitude. These are signs that encourage us on the journey of faith. Open our vision to take notice of all the good things You are doing in the world and in our lives. Open our hearts to a deeper understanding of Your grace and peace. For Your love is written not only in the words of Scripture, but in the sap rising in the trees, the green blades of grass, the turning of seasons, the calm after the storm, the lofty clouds and blue skies and the rain. We give thanks to You, Risen One, in all the signs of life. Amen.

Worship Resources for April 9, 2023—Easter Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10

Narrative Lectionary: Easter, Matthew 28:1-10 (Psalm 118:19-24)

For the season of Easter, often a reading from Acts is used instead of the Hebrew scriptures. The first selection from Acts 10:34-43 contains Peter’s bold revelation from both a vision he beheld from God in vs. 9-16 and in his encounter with the Roman centurion Cornelius in 17-33. In the vision, God gave Peter food to eat that was both from clean and unclean animals, with the lesson that whatever God declared holy, others must not call profane. In Peter’s conversation with Cornelius, a Gentile, Peter understood that Cornelius’s own encounter with the Holy Spirit was valid and true. There was no need for Cornelius to become Jewish, he knew God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. God shows no partiality between Jewish and Gentile, for Jesus is Lord of all. Peter and the other disciples were witnesses of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, and called to testify in his name. Peter confirmed that everyone who believes in Jesus may be forgiven of their sins through Christ’s name.

An alternative to the Acts reading is Jeremiah 31:1-6. In the midst of war, in the knowledge that the people of Judah will be taken into exile, God still brings a word of hope to the prophet Jeremiah. Just as God brought the people out of Egypt and through the wilderness, God will restore the people with joy. God’s faithfulness will continue, as God’s faithful love of Israel endures forever. Even in the north, taken long ago into exile, there will be vineyards planted and wine poured, because God restores all, and even the people gone long ago will return to worship God in Zion.

Portions of Psalm 118 are read for both Palm Sunday and on Easter, with some overlap. The portion for Easter includes the declaration that God is the psalmist’s strength, might, and salvation. Death will not have a hold on the people, for they will live with God as their God. Though the people of Israel have suffered, God did not allow them to die out, but instead, they have returned to worship as the psalmist calls them into the temple. The people rejected are now the foundation of the knowledge of God around the world, for God has chosen the people of Israel to demonstrate God’s glory and salvation to all.

Colossians 3:1-4 speaks of the life of the Christian with the resurrected Christ. Believers always have a heavenly worldview. Christ has been revealed to the world, and therefore our lives are testimony to Christ’s resurrection. We have already been raised from death as we walk this earth, for death has no hold on us.

(An alternative to the Colossians reading is Acts 10:34-43, if the Jeremiah passage is chosen for the first reading).

In John’s account of the resurrection, it was still dark on the first day of the week and Mary Magdalene was by herself when she came to the tomb and discovered the stone had been rolled back. Mary went to tell Peter and the beloved disciple, who then raced to the empty tomb. Though Peter went in first, the beloved disciple went in after, and he saw and believed. Nevertheless, both he and Peter went home because they did not understand the scripture. Only Mary remained, weeping. She looked into the tomb and saw two angels. They asked her why she was weeping, because Mary thought someone had taken Jesus’s body. When she turned around, she thought she saw the gardener, who asked her the same question. She asked if he had taken the body to tell her where he had put it, so she could take care of the body. She kept asking questions. But then the gardener said her name, and she immediately recognized her teacher. Jesus warned her not to hold on to him, but instead to go and tell the disciples that he had risen and would be ascending to God (the Father). Mary then announced to the disciples that she had seen the Lord and what he had spoken to her. Mary is known as the Apostle to the Apostles because she remained faithful and kept asking where Jesus was, when the other disciples went home, and even the beloved disciple who believed. A good teacher has students who ask good questions. And nevertheless, Mary persisted.

Both an alternative Gospel reading for the Revised Common Lectionary as well as the reading for the Narrative Lectionary, Matthew’s account of the resurrection contains both Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary.” Only in Matthew’s account is the stone still in place—it is rolled back by an angel after an earthquake, and the angel sits on the stone. Also, only in Matthew’s account are guards posted at the tomb, but the guards are shaken out of fear. The angel tells the women that they are looking for Jesus, but he isn’t there—he has been raised. Instead, they are to go to Galilee where Jesus will be waiting for them. The women leave to tell the disciples, out of great joy and fear, when they encounter the resurrected Christ. In John’s account, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene not to hold on to him, but in Matthew, both women take hold of Jesus’s feet and worship him. Jesus tells them both not to be afraid, but to tell the disciples to go ahead to Galilee, for that is where they will see him.

The supplementary reading for the Narrative Lectionary is a shorter portion of Psalm 118, covered under the Revised Common Lectionary above.

It is hard to know what to say differently this year for Easter than any other year. Death does not have the last word. Love wins. Life endures forever. I’m personally drawn to Mary’s persistence in John’s account of the resurrection, out of grief, out of faithfulness—the way she continues to seek Jesus and will not give up until she has found him. Despite the despair in our world—gun violence, continued Covid-19 illnesses and death, legislation against healthcare for transgender children—the pursuit of Jesus inspires me. The pursuit of life. The pursuit of justice. Despite the hopelessness, a refusal to give up. Mary is not hopeful—she’s looking for a dead body, not a risen Savior. But she refuses to give up until she finds Jesus. And in that pursuit, she finds the unexpected.

Call to Worship
In emptiness of night,
We wait for dawn to break open.
In our grief and suffering,
We weep and look for something to hold on to.
In the finality of the tomb,
We wait for the dead to rise.
In the face of death,
We declare the Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Stormclouds and Sunshine, Springtime and Autumn, we know You are present with us in all seasons of faith. At times we sing Hallelujah with joy and declare that Christ is Risen! At times we sit quietly with our pain and loss and hold on to the small kernel of hope that we are not alone. You are with us in all seasons of our lives. On this Easter day, may we not be ashamed of our doubts or our struggles, nor may we lord over our faith on others who are skeptical. Instead, may we all come to You, reminded of Mary Magdalene who wouldn’t give up until she found you, persisting in our questions. You are our Rabbi, our Teacher, and no matter where we are on the path of faith, You are calling our name, revealing Yourself to us. May we listen and follow. Amen.

From Mary Magdalene proclaiming to the other disciples that she had seen the risen Christ, to each of us saying to one another Christ is Risen, we know that our faith is passed on, shared, and only grows over time. May you live with the assurance that in your times of struggle, others have faith enough to pray for you, help you, and care for you. May you have the grace to accept the help you need. May you pray for others in their times of struggle and be there to lift them up. May we help one another on this journey of faith, knowing that we are not alone, as we question, doubt, praise and proclaim that Christ is Risen. Go and share the good news. Amen.

God of Death and Life, Adversity and Hope, we give thanks for the celebration of Easter, of the hope of resurrection, the promise of new life found in Jesus Christ our Lord. May we remember that eternal life begins here and now and is not about life after death but a life that is transformed and transverses earth and heaven. If we seek You, may we search with all our heart so that we may find You. We pray that You would strengthen our hearts and strengthen our faith, for we know that there will be grief and pain in our lives ahead, but there is also great joy and comfort with You, and with one another. Grant us the courage to live into faith, each and every day, that You have risen and give us the hope of new life, now and forever. Amen.